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For Mature Audiences Only – Censor (Sundance 2021 Film Review)

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Niamh Algar appears in Censor by Prano Bailey-Bond, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Niamh Algar appears in Censor by Prano Bailey-Bond, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

In a time before reddit existed, the spiritual equivalent of forums such as r/gore was consumed by a physical form known as the video nasty. As purely guilty pleasure entertainment, conservative media and censorship boards in Britain hunted these outlawed tapes at the time. It was a war on the media, declaring these films as harmful products that could incite violence. Taking a complete satirical edge on the hysteria, nausea, and eye-rolling politics of the time, Prano Bailey-Bond's glorious middle finger to the people who provoked these very misconceptions is a delightfully gory affair. Simmering with homage and refreshing style, Bailey-Bond's feature debut is an aggressively phantasmagorical work of social commentary. 

Decapitation, eye-gouging, skin-splitting, and other murderous proceedings. This is the world of Censor; a film deeply rooted in the lore of these banned tapes. Enid Baines, a young film Censor who is expertly backed by Niamh Algar unhinged performance, is on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Circling through stages of paranoia and constant surveillance over the ominous disappearance of her sister, Bailey-Bond takes a nauseating approach at delving into the lead character's internal psyche. Dutch shots, acute aspect ratio alterations, period-defined production design, neon-bathed lighting, attentive makeup, and the tactility of the celluloid cinematography add a level of dedication to the moulding and cultural hysteria behind the infamous video nasties movement. 

Ending on a note that concludes with a sadistically humorous comedic edge, Censor is frequently funny in its satirical writing. When the film primarily comments on the incessant reliance on media as a form of opinion and even casual entertainment, the film doesn't pull back in how prickish and pompous these producers, influencers, and misinformation spreaders really are. With a bombardment of death threats, one would think these very misconceptions are causing more harm than good. And yet, what Censor is mostly critical of is the consumed energy of the general public and their attention towards consistent blaming of innocent parties, over the real menace looming over society. 

However, Censor also unfortunately loses steam whenever it focuses on any concept that isn't correlated with this aforementioned theme. More prominently displayed in the scenes that involve Enid's family and social life, the film loses a certain amount of its edge in its articulate display of an unraveling mystery. Perhaps it's the conventionality of these scenes that lack a certain gusto in comparison with the more memorable fare. Especially when dealing with genre-king Michael Smiley, who portrays a vile movie mogul, the more ordinary scenes have a strong amount of disconnect with the entire campy picture at hand. 

Censor is pure genre emulation at its most angering and squeamish. A combination of dedicated research and pure nefarious filmmaking, Prano Bailey-Bond displays an awe-striking amount of dedication towards what is essentially one blasphemous social critique. And I'm all for it. In the great vein of other recent social horror critiques produced by the BFI (Saint Maud, In Fabric), Censor is bound to be a divisive picture upon its initial release. And yet, as one character in Censor states: “sequels are all the rage these days.” So don't be surprised if Bailey-Bond returns with an equally sharp sophomore feature.

Dir: Prano Bailey-Bond

Scr: Prano Bailey-Bond & Anthony Fletcher

Cast: Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Michael Smiley

DOP: Annika Summerson

Country: United Kingdom

Year: 2021

Runtime: 84 minutes

Censor premiered at this year's Film Festival as part of the Midnight section. The film will screen again virtually on January 30th. Censor is also currently seeking international distribution.

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