Censor, director Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature film debut is a neon-soaked horror mystery set against the backdrop of the era of video nasties, a term for horror movies deemed unfit for viewing in the United Kingdom due to extreme violence that some felt might lead children into committing acts of violence themselves. Think Tipper Gore and the PMRC but for horror movies. Some of the movies deemed video nasties included Suspria (1977), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Scanners, and The Thing.
Enid Baines (Niamh Algar) is a film censor who screens horror films and assigns them a rating and, where necessary, decides if any cuts are needed. After one of the films she passed is deemed to be the inspiration behind a grisly murder, Enid becomes an object of public scrutiny. At the same time, a mysterious director has requested that she screen one of his movies. As she’s watching the movie in question, Don’t Go Into the Church, she begins to notice shocking similarities between the movie and her memories of the day her younger sister Nina went missing.
While the neon aesthetic of the film points towards Censor being just another in the recent spate of neon-drenched indie horror flicks best exemplified by films like Mandy and Color Out of Space (both of which being movies that I love), Censor is something different. The neon lights present in Censor serve a narrative purpose that lies deeper than the surface level. Contrary to what the trailers may lead one to believe, Censor is a slow-paced character study that follows Enid as she spirals out of control in the face of the events unfolding in front of her, the lighting intensifies; becoming more akin to the vibrant reds and greens of a Dario Argento film. While that lighting is present for most of the movie, it isn’t until the plot itself intensifies that, at the same time as the aspect ratio shrinks, taking on the characteristics of one of the films Enid would screen, so too does the colour take on that characteristic. Several scenes were shot on tape, complimenting the more grounded, grainy footage that makes up the majority of the film with the less realistic aesthetic of the video nasties that Enid screens, candy-coloured blood and all.
Speaking of the aspect ratio, the slow change from widescreen to 4:3 was one of the aspects of this movie that stuck out to me because it didn’t stick out to me until the ratio had already shrunk significantly. It’s a slow change that takes place in the last half hour as the film truly becomes a video nasty in its own right while taking on the aspect ratio of one. In terms of aspect ratio changes in movies, the only other one that really sticks out to me is from Waves (2019) a movie entirely unlike this one that, aside from a few moments, I don’t like at all. In fact, take this as the opposite of an invitation to watch Waves, watch Censor instead. You’ll have a better time and you won’t feel like you’ve spent the night watching something made by someone who likes The Life of Pablo a little too much.
But I digress. Censor is a brilliant, stylish debut that promises much more to come from Prano Bailey-Bond; I for one can’t wait to see what comes next.