This Giallo-tinted nightmare shows promise, but ultimately fails

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | June 10, 2021

Opens June 18

2 out of 5

One of Maggie Thatcher’s lesser affronts to the common good as British prime minister in the 1980s was increased film censorship, particularly for movies believed to corrupt children or foster violence. This led to the birth of “video nasties”: cheap, gory horror flicks often rented under the table.

Ostensibly a love letter to video nasties, Censor is a lean-and-mean homage (too lean, perhaps) with a clever setup that stumbles midway through and fails to recover.

The censor of the title is Enid (Niamh Algar, Wrath of Man), a mousy young woman who takes her job very seriously. She actually cares if cutting an eye gouging scene would affect the plot of the movie she’s appraising.

Enid is still stunted by the disappearance of her sister when she was a tween, so when she encounters a movie that depicts beat by beat the events that preceded her sister vanishing, she goes on the hunt. Enid’s pursuit leads to an obscure filmmaker who may know the whereabouts of her sibling. It’s that, or the video nasties have gone to her head.

In psychological thrillers like this, filmmakers often use “dream logic” as an excuse for stuff that doesn’t gel properly. And first-time feature director Prano Bailey-Bond relies heavily on it here. As the film descends into a Giallo-tinted nightmare, the story stops resisting scrutiny, and only a cameo by Michael Smiley as a sleazy producer delivers the goods.

While a critic should never review a film for what they want it to be, the missed opportunities here are too many. The politics of censorship (along with the actual impact of extreme violence in fringe horror) are paid lip service, but not explored. In an age where IMDb has robbed most secretive filmmakers of their mystique (see: Terrence Malick), the idea of a reclusive auteur who emerges every so often with a new nightmare is also compelling. But again, not explored.