CENSOR. A successful British horror film about the VHS era
The intimate, inconspicuous Censor by director Prano Bailey-Bond stands out from the majority of horror films.
Censor is a film firmly rooted in the socio-political realities of the mid-1980s in Great Britain. The main character, the title censor Enid (actress Niamh Algar, known from the HBO science fiction series Raised by Wolves), works at the British Board of Film Censors, an organization responsible for censorship and age classification of film productions. As part of his job, he watches videotapes with the most bloody and brutal scenes every day, censoring them. The 1980s and the so-called video nasty era – the country is experiencing a boom for slasher films, gore cinema and exploitation, which appear on the market in large numbers on videotapes, thus circumventing the censorship and age regulations imposed on films in theatrical distribution. Due to the pressure of society and the media, according to which the excess of violent films makes people themselves insensitive and aggressive, it was decided to regulate this “wild” market. So there is no shortage of work for Enid, and the violence she sees on the screen no longer impresses her. Until the day a cassette of a film by Frederick North, a veteran of British horror cinema, arrives in the office. On the screen, Enid recognizes a girl who looks very similar to her missing sister Nina many years ago. The film arouses anxiety and feverish curiosity in her. So far, orderly, conservative and extremely meticulous in her work, Enid falls apart, and the unresolved trauma and obsessive desire to find her sister make her sink deeper and deeper into loneliness and psychosis, which will eventually lead to real, not only on-screen, violence.
Films by David Lynch or David Cronenberg echo in Censor (Videodrome in particular), but it is Peter Strickland’s 2012 film that comes to mind first. Berberian Sound Studio, a psychological horror about a sound technician (Toby Jones) working on effects for an Italian giallo film, similarly to Censor, touches upon self-referential threads and shows the main character’s gradual descent into his own madness and spiral of violence. It is significant that Prano Bailey-Bond hardly shows viewers the horrors Enid sees at work every day. All we hear is terrifying sounds coming from the kinescope TV in the office, and we can only guess the plot from remarks exchanged between Enid and her colleagues at work. Only the mental madness into which the heroine falls leads to the escalation of brutal violence. Bailey-Bond plays with popular social anxiety – does exposure to fictional violence in cinema and games actually make the viewer indifferent and become prone to violence himself?
Censor is another film in line with the nostalgic trend of resurrecting the 1980s, which has been present in cinema for several years. The stage design by Paulina Rzeszowska, a Polish artist, perfectly reflects the atmosphere of those years, combining sepia browns and greens with neon reds, which intensify the film’s surrealism. The creators play with the convention of horror films from those years, which is why individual parts of the film were shot on both 35 mm and 8 mm film, giving the film an authentic atmosphere. During the film, the image becomes grainy at times, imitating the experience of watching a VHS tape, and at the climax the format also changes, enhancing the impression of claustrophobic horror.
Censor develops slowly, but the ending of the film is a real rollercoaster ride, not only in terms of visual, violent and horror experiences. The film will satisfy those who look for deeper psychological considerations in horror movies, as well as all fans of the aesthetics of the 80s.