Censor, directed and co-written by Prano Bailey-Bond (Nasty, Man vs Sand), is not my usual kind of horror fare, and while ultimately it was not my kind of movie, it is anything but a bad movie.
It is 1985, and Enid Baines (Niamh Algar – Calm with Horses, Raised by Wolves) is a film censor working for the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) during the height of the moral panic around so-called “video nasties”. Uptight, prim and a stickler for detail, Enid’s co-workers call her “Little Miss Perfect” behind her back, and while she is cordial with them, she seems disconnected, having few real friends or much of a social life.
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During a dinner with her parents we learn that part of this is related to the disappearance of Enid’s sister Nina when the two were children. Enid appears unable to move past this tragedy and remains convinced that Nina is still alive. When she is asked to view a film called “Don’t Go in the Church” she becomes fixated on the idea that the lead actress (played by Sophia La Porta – Ripper Street, Four Weddings and a Funeral) bears an uncanny resemblance to a grown-up version of her long lost sister and sets out to discover more about both the actress, and the director of the movie.
The film must be praised for its depiction of the UK in the 1980s. Eschewing the now-overused trope of familiar, upbeat pop music and neon lights everywhere, this version of the 80s is grim, grey and washed out. This is the time of riots, union-busting, miner’s strikes and Margaret Thatcher. The streets are grimy, the colours muted, the only soundtrack the gloriously discordant and minimalistic score from composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch.
The writing is strong here, with characters quickly established through careful use of dialogue, costume and set design. The lighting and production design also plays a big part in the story, reinforcing the events that take place as Enid’s single-minded crusade to find her sister grows all-consuming.
Censor is not a long movie, and it doesn’t need to be. Everything we need to know about these characters and their world is established within the first few moments. If a criticism could be levelled at the film, it’s that it takes a little while for the story to find its feet, the first half of the film definitely a quite slow (some might accuse it of being ponderous) affair, but checking out the special features actually gave me a new appreciation for all the subtle work that’s being done in this first part, all these little hints and threads being laid down that quietly point their way to this film’s conclusion.
Second Sight, following on from their superb release of Session 9, have done their usual stellar job with this 2-disc Blu-ray release. The Blu-ray even opens with a little series of electronic beeps and a burst of tracking static as well as an old-fashioned legal disclaimer to hammer that home movie aesthetic in.
There’s not just one, not two, but three different audio commentaries to listen to, along with interviews with… well, pretty much everyone involved with the production. You want an interview with the composer? Got one. Want an interview with the director? Yep! Do you want an interview with an actual film censor from the BBFC talking about both his work and the film? Censor has you covered. There is, in fact, an entire disc filled with interviews for you to enjoy, analysing every aspect of not just the film, but there’s even a feature-length documentary called “Ban the Sadist Videos!” that looks into the real-life moral hysteria around horror movies during the 1980s.
All this, as with other recent Second Sight releases, comes in a slipcase with new artwork, this time by James Neal. There’s also an accompanying book with new essays by Anna Bogutskaya, Kat Ellinger (who also features on one of the commentary tracks), Tim Murray, Alison Peirse and Hannah Strong, as well as 6 collector’s postcards to round off what is another strong offering for genre fans.
Censor made waves when it hit the festival circuit, and while it might not necessarily appeal to those who like their horror more immediate and visceral, it has the makings of a future cult classic written all over it.
Censor is out now on Blu-ray from Second Sight Films.