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.