The subject of much discussion and documentary content within the circles of those interested in the darker side of Cinema, the video nasty finds itself as the context for this new, much buzzed about, horror from first-time feature filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond but its a film which has other things on its mind and in all honesty, that might be why in the end, the result turns out to be quite disappointing.
The story of a film censor who sees past trauma bubbling to the surface while dealing with an event of high stress in her current life, Censor starts off strong with a terrific sense of time and place with context given for the ‘video nasty’ hysteria but also wisely assuming that the audience for the film likely has at least a passing interest enough to not have exposition crammed down the throat. The production design and evocative score blend beautifully and Niamh Algar ably depicts a woman who many people inclined in the way of horror would perhaps boo at usually, her professional life focused on protecting people from the imagery conveyed in these films, but also not in a puritanical way. It is not any kind of ‘please won’t somebody think of the children’ reactionary behaviour, she deeply believes it, and also it is acknowledged within the film that it is only the all too real content which seems to provoke the proverbial scissors to make cuts, a very smart decision by Bailey-Bond.
As the film’s central mystery gets warming up however, reality and fiction start to blend and this is when things take a turn. A lot of small narrative threads are opened up, the film seemingly wanting to make you question the nature of what is happening and what is ‘truth’ but with an underlying current of the whole thing being so obvious that you will it to focus less on the personal tragedy of the lead character and instead have more fun, and frankly actually try to be scary. It has the feel of an ‘elevated horror’ but one which has the dressing of something looking to also shock and thrill without particularly doing either.
As proceedings come to a head, the increasing obviousness of what is going on unfortunately makes one look at myriad, gaping, holes in the narrative which just undercut what Bailey-Bond is trying to say and while Niamh Algar is giving it all she’s got, there were moments towards the end where you may well want to laugh at the absurdity of what is happening on screen, which surely can’t be intentional given what is going on within the narrative.
Censor starts strong and evokes a fantastic mood but its such a shame that the end result is a film which seems to mix up its ambitions to be a tale of psychological damage and an ode to an era which also seems to have a surprising take on the nature of the effect of video nasties and comes out rather lacking on both sides. A disappointment more for just how good elements of it are.