Friday, January 29, 2021

Sundance 2021 Review: CENSOR (2021)

When I think of gore in horror, I think of some of the great films from the 70’s and 80’s, like The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as lesser known ones like The Prowler and Nightmares in a Damaged Brain. So when I read the synopsis for this film, I instantly starting thinking about how films like those may have an influence on this, and it’s definitely apparent that they were, right from the beginning.

Censor takes place in the UK during the Video Nasty era of the 1980’s. For those unaware, “video nasty” is a colloquial term used to refer to typically low-budget horror and exploitation films on VHS that were passed around and criticized for their extreme violent content. It was the job of Film Censors to deem what should be cut out in order for a film to get released, or, if that wasn’t an option, to outright deny the film a release. This story follows a Film Censor named Enid, who takes pride in her work, being as thorough and meticulous as possible. Things start to go sideways for her, though, after watching a particular film with a scene that bears a striking resemblance to a dark, traumatic event in her past. As she attempts to find answers, she slowly begins discover there may be more of a connection than she anticipated.

This is the feature film debut of writer and director Prano Bailey-Bond, and boy, what a debut it turned out to be. It’s obvious that Bailey-Bond has a deep love for this era of horror, as she’s able to showcase it in some wonderful ways, from the lighting and sound design, to the actual gore itself. The cinematography from Annika Summerson is top notch and was one of my favorite aspects of this film. Early on we get techniques like slow camera pans, both side-to-side, like when entering a room, and pull-in shots, while zooming in on a character’s face. The deliberate slowness of these pans creates a wonderful sense of tension. We also saw a shift in aspect ratio when going from real life to film. This helped to disorient the senses in certain parts of the film, causing you to question what was real and what was not.

I also want to mention the color palette, consisting of very bleak, desaturated tones and muted colors, which provided a realism to the era that tends to be lost in most cinema from present day set in the 1980’s, where we typically see bright, exaggerated colors. This stood out the most to me with the character of Enid, played by the incredibly talented Niamh Algar. She is shown wearing very reserved, drab clothing in neutral colors, with extremely pale skin and flat hair. This look not only encapsulates that bleak feeling of the world around her, but also says a lot about the character herself. It’s almost like she’s walking around, living her life, but she’s dead inside. Which would explain why she’s so good at her job, as all these intense scenes of horror don’t seem to phase her in the slightest. This holds even truer for me after we find out what happened in her past. So the fact that the filmmaker was able to present this to the audience in such a remarkably visual way was a highlight for me.

I mentioned Niamh Algar, who did such a wonderful job at bringing sadness and despair to the screen. She plays a woman who is slowly losing her sense of reality, and manages to lock us in for the ride. The emotion she brings to a certain scene as she’s watching a film was mesmerizing. I felt for her and was on the edge of my seat with worry. It was brilliant.

The only thing I found to be a negative, and it’s a minor one at that, was the lack of gore throughout. Now don’t get me wrong, this film definitely has some wonderfully gory moments, but the first two-thirds felt more psychological, which I wasn’t expecting. Nonetheless, Censor was an absolute trip, a fantastic piece of cinema and a love letter to 80’s horror. This is a film I will be watching again and again, and will definitely be recommending to friends.


The Merc’s Score: 9/10

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