Writer and director Prano Bailey-Bond plunges into the wacky world of video nasties for her feature debut Censor. Penned with her regular co-writer Anthony Fletcher, the psychological horror centres around Enid (Niamh Algar), a reticent film censor who spots something in a movie which triggers dark memories from her childhood. The shocking discovery prompts her to dig deeper into the works of controversial filmmaker Frederick North (Adrian Schiller) and his creepy producer Doug (Michael Smiley) as she becomes increasingly obsessed with the mystery surrounding her younger sister’s strange disappearance.
There’s not a glimpse of daylight to be seen in the entirety of this film as Bailey-Bond conjures up a drab, claustrophobic atmosphere for this story to unravel in, with the aspect ratio cleverly closing in on the protagonist throughout. The 80s grain of the cinematography, synth-heavy score, and the exquisite prop and production design come together to really capture the tone, smartly emulating the grimy look and feel of the nightmarish movies Enid observes in her day job.
However, once this style is neatly established, the rhythm unfortunately grinds to a crawl and the potential is squandered by an overabundance of arthouse absurdity. Little is done to further the character development, and from around the halfway mark, it’s as if the film runs out of ideas as it descends towards its lacklustre final act through a series of ultra-violent genre tropes.
Niamh Algar has quickly become one of my favourite actresses in recent years and has had an amazing run that’s included television work on Pure and The Virtues, as well as indie hit film Calm with Horses. As the lead in this particular piece, her performance is suitably understated and nuanced, comparable to Morfydd Clark’s turn in Saint Maud which explores similar themes of loneliness and despair. I’d have liked to have seen more interactions with the characters around her, but the brief scenes with sleazebag Doug are great, with the on-form Michael Smiley reliably portraying an arrogant, misogynistic piece of shit.
Bailey-Bond’s Censor is a technically accomplished homage to home-video horror with an intriguing performance at its dark heart, but it falls victim to ponderous pacing and a poor execution of plot.