Censor is an unsettling, ambiguous horror movie and the debut feature of Prano Bailey-Bond, who’s already showing both stylistic flair and discretion.
Straight-laced, prim Enid (Niamh Algar) works as a censor for the British Board of Film Classification in the ’80s, and most of her job is dealing with Britain’s notorious “video nasties.” The public furor against movie violence is at an all-time high. The film handles its social context deftly, implying that the mass panic was artificially whipped up by both the Thatcher administration and a scandal-sells approach to the news but also more or less admitting that a lot of these movies were sleazy, artless explosions of gore and nudity almost entirely innocent of plot. Enid and her jaded coworkers have to watch hour upon hour of this stuff, and their process looks at once fascinating and unbelievably boring. The eye-gouging has to go, it’s too realistic; the pulled-out intestines can stay in, since they’re more heightened.
Enid’s stricter approach to cuts is further contextualized when we find out that she has a missing younger sister. The two of them went into the woods when they were children, and only Enid came back out, and she’s never clearly remembered what happened. Her aging parents want to finally declare the missing Nina dead, just for closure’s sake, but Enid longs to believe that Nina is still alive.
Then she’s assigned to watch a film, Don’t Go in the Church, and certain details of it jar her memory; there seem to be eerie parallels to her and Nina. Another film by the same director, Frederick North, stars a young actress named Alice Lee, with red hair and luminous eyes, just like Nina, and Enid becomes obsessed with the possibility that Alice is Nina, all grown up after having been abducted by North.
As the film progresses, Enid becomes the center of a public firestorm, beset on all sides by snide disapproval, intense scrutiny, and outright hatred; it makes her psychological collapse feel almost dreamlike. Reality bends and blurs quite a bit towards the end of Censor–in a way that fits Enid’s job, where she can demand cuts and changes, steering stories away from moments too dark to bear. Sometimes too much plot-related ambiguity can be a cop-out, but Censor makes the most of it, keeping a good explained-to-unexplained ratio and layering double meanings into its title. This is the movie business, in a way: grubby technique, sleaze, constant note-taking, dreams, and despair.
Censor is streaming on Hulu.