Dario Argento

Censor

23/08/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

It’s 1985, the UK is in the midst of Thatcherism and the era of the ‘video-nasty’ is casting a pervasive grip on the public imagination. Enid (Niamh Algar) works as a censor – presumably for the British Board of Film Classification, though it’s never spelled out. Enid’s daily routine obliges her to suffer through a seemingly endless supply of filmed rapes, murders and general carnage, occasionally making notes as she does so (such as suggesting that a display of eye-gouging might be cut down a little). Her colleague, Sanderson (Nicholas Burns) tells her she’s too diligent, that if it were down to him, he’d pass the lot without a qualm, but Enid wants to ensure that she takes every care to protect the public. Because such violent images can be harmful, right?

Enid also has something lurking in her past, the mysterious disappearance of her sister, Nina, when they were children, now an unsolved ‘cold case.’ So when Enid is asked to look at a film by mysterious director, Frederick North (Adrian Schiller), she’s deeply disturbed to discover that some of the details in his screenplay seem to eerily recall what actually happened to her and Nina back in the day, details that she has suppressed for years. And then she meets North’s sleazy producer Doug Smart (Michael Smiley), and the memories of her childhood trauma start to crowd in on her consciousness. Soon, she is having trouble differentiating between what she sees on the screen and what’s really happening…

This is writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond’s first full-length feature and she handles it with verve and assurance. My abiding fear was that a twenty-first century feature that clearly references infamous 80s film-makers like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulvi would feel too much like a director trying to have her cinematic cake and eat it – but, while it’s probably fair to say that there is some of that about Censor, it’s to Bailey-Bond’s credit that she manages to navigate those murky X-rated waters without ever getting out of her depth.

Cinematographer Annika Summerson probably deserves much of the praise for managing to uncannily recreate the look of those vintage films, complete with grainy imagery, lens-flare and ever-changing aspect ratios. Algar shines as a woman who has repressed her inner demons for so long, she wears them like a suit of clothes.

Censor is fascinating, both as a memento of an infamous period in cinema history and as a gradually-unfolding mystery with a cleverly handled pay-off.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Suspiria

 

18/11/18

After the sublime Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino could probably have made pretty much any film he wanted to. For some reason, he’s landed on a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo masterpiece, Suspiria. This is starting to feel like a trend. After Steve McQueen’s recent reinterpretation of Lynda La Plante’s Widows, I wonder what we can expect next? Guillermo Del Toro’s On the Buses, perhaps?

I’ll admit that I’ve long had a soft spot for the original Suspiria. I first saw it at a University film society in the early 1980s. (I wasn’t even a student there, but they had the full uncensored cut, so naturally I inveigled my way in!) I had, I suppose, been expecting just another slice n’ dicer and was quite blown away by what I saw on the screen. To me, it was an almost overwhelming onslaught of vibrant colour, copious bloodshed and histrionic terror, quite unlike any other horror movie I’d ever seen. One thing it most certainly wasn’t was pretentious. Sadly, I can’t say the same about this film, which is long and rambling and only occasionally fizzes into enough life to fully command my attention. It feels as though it’s a long-cherished dream project for Guadagnino, and the problem with such an undertaking is that, while the director knows exactly what he’s trying to say at any given moment, the audience is not always quite so lucky.

The story is broken up into six acts, and is set in a divided Germany in 1977, where the news is all about the the Baader-Meinhoff separatists and their exploits in Entebbe. Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), a student at a prestigious dance academy in West Berlin, comes seeking the help of elderly (and suspiciously latex-faced) psychiatrist Dr Joseph Klemperer, before running off into the night, leaving her journal for Klemperer to read. We then meet Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who duly arrives at the self-same dance academy, eagerly looking to enrol. At her audition, she manages to catch the eye of influential dance tutor, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), but not everything here is as it appears…

While Guadagnino certainly doesn’t stint on the bloodletting and the nudity, he does attempt to intellectualise what was once a very straightforward tale of witchcraft and demonic possession, pulling in strands of other – seemingly disparate – stories,  with the result that they feel clumsily crowbarred into the proceedings. There’s the aforementioned Red Army Faction, and also Dr Klemperer’s tragic history during the Second World War, which, if nothing else, gives Suspiria’s original star, Jessica Harper, a brief cameo. And sadly, the only dancing in evidence seems to consist of people writhing around on the floor without recourse to any music.

Of course, this being a Luca Guadagnino film, it’s not a total loss –  there’s a decent sense of foreboding throughout and some truly jarring bits of body horror – but with a punishing running time of two hours and thirty two minutes, this one is only for the hardiest viewers and those, like me, who can’t resist seeing how a brilliant original has been reinterpreted.

I have to say, my major feeling here is one of profound disappointment.

3 stars

Philip Caveney