Directed By Prano Bailey-Bond
Starring – Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley, Nicholas Burns
The Plot – Film censor Enid (Algar) takes pride in her meticulous work, guarding unsuspecting audiences from the deleterious effects of watching the gore-filled decapitations and eye gougings she pores over. Her sense of duty to protect is amplified by guilt over her inability to recall details of the long-ago disappearance of her sister (Sophia La Porta), recently declared dead in absentia. When Enid is assigned to review a disturbing film from the archive that echoes her hazy childhood memories, she begins to unravel how this eerie work might be tied to her past.
This film is currently not rated
– Hypnotic presentation. “Censor” could easily pass for a contemporary David Cronenberg film, and the reason is because it pulls the best ingredients from the acclaimed director all in order to play towards the atmospheric dread of its environment established in the foreground of this story. Hazy fog, dense lighting, and impeccable framing each play into a decaying visual circumference that emits this feeling of dread and internal conflict seen through the eyes of our protagonist, giving the film an intentionally dated identity that better convey some of the nightmarish imagery that tiptoes a fine line of trepidation between fantasy or reality. While the story itself does eventually pay off in unfurling layers of psychology that speak volumes about grief, longing, and the overwhelming burden of letting go, the visual intoxication is the cryptic blanket of ambiguity that warmly peaks your interest, making “Censor” an ambitiously intoxicating turn for Bailey-Bond in only her second feature length directing experience.
– Immersive production. On its own merits, the elements of influence from beyond the screen are most apparent in fleshing a juxtaposition of tones and emotions that enhance the performances of the talented cast without overstepping boundaries. For one, the editing is some of the best that I have seen this year, primarily during the movie’s third act, when the line between fantasy and reality becomes obscured by a visual storytelling method made all the more terrifying for the clarity between two perspectives that it is creatively trying to convey. In addition, the entrancing rumbling from Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s spellbinding musical score captivates the story in a resounding hypnosis, made all the more unsettling by the serenading synth that triggers the anxiety of its material. Finally, the aspect ratio changes for the film’s within the film that our protagonist watches grants believability to the captivity in focus, all the while homaging a respect for the videotape age of cinema with all of its unique quirks and traits that include but not limited by scratched film and on-screen text articulating the many remote control commands.
– Eye-opening. There’s very little known about Censor’s in general, as to what their jobs entail, but I commend the script exceptionally for not only detailing the routine of watching literally hundreds of hours of video nasties produced by amateur gory filmmakers, but also the toll that takes on their vulnerable mental and physical capacities. For some, that means spontaneous sickness that resonates in a flash, but for Enid, it’s the aspects within a quite literal dull and dreary life that she herself is perfect for because of a tortured history that she unfortunately hasn’t been able to outrun. Beyond even that, however, it’s the responsibility that these Censor’s bare while catering to a world that hastily blames them for every shooting or massacre blamed on a tape that they themselves reviewed to rate accordingly. Because of such, it makes the job an undesirable one for a variety of reasons previously established, and fleshes them out as pivotal levels of our form of media that haven’t been credited as such until now.
– Meat of the material. I myself can’t understand why I haven’t been able to find a rating for this film (Ironic when you consider the career entailed in the film), especially considering the bulk of its graphic visuals easily cements an R-rating for the depth of its depiction. What’s surprising, however, about this is the gore and brutality itself within the film only appears sporadically throughout, keeping its moments of impact sharp by a limited ratio that doesn’t water down its effectiveness by a repetition to the well that comes back dryer each time. With that said, the gore itself is very satisfying to a horror hound like me, complete with practical effects in the area’s of splattering blood and ingenious physicality guaranteed to serve up a spirited wince or two from the audience engaged faithfully.
– Easy sit. At 79 measly minutes, “Censor” never has the opportunity to overstay its welcome, or lose the audience commitment on its way to one of the more memorable finales in recent memory. The pacing itself remains firm throughout, persisting as a bit of a conventional slowburn, but one in which every scene is valuable in outlining a bigger picture that the story is constantly moving towards, engaging us in the overall mystery that immediately conveys something unordinary is at play. It’s one of those rare experiences with a film that doesn’t involve a single solitary scene that I would omit from the finished product, yet simultaneously one that somehow manages to explain the depth of its narrative with around 25 minutes of allowance each act, crafting masterful storytelling that I was never bored or limited by because of its unorthodox run time.
– Gripping lead. Each of the cast members do their part to stitch together several against the grain characters that cohesively play into the strangeness of the film’s tonal consistency, but it’s the riveting work of Niamh Algar that brings forth a buzzworthy depiction, complete with a buffet of vulnerable emotional resonance that shed many layers within her capabilities. Enid’s characterization begins as mostly quiet, carrying with it an unabashed focus for the job that her co-workers depend on her for. However, that changes as the plot expands, and soon Algar is riding a wave of paranoia, melancholy, and even anger on her way to fleshing out a wild card of a character embodying a complete mental frailty that gets the better of her for the audience’s entertainment. In addition, I love all of the nuanced quirks and ticks to the character, particularly her finger moving a certain way each time she’s nervous. It gives the character a lived in quality that Algar explores on major and intimate levels, giving her layers of believability for the portrayal that the actress makes her own. Every minute of the film is spent candidly by her side, giving us one of those rare horror performances that deserve critical acclaim for the way her talents constantly elevate the material surrounding her.
– Annika Summerson. Cinematography in horror films have come a long way, particularly in the visual dexterity that conveys a particular feeling or emotion in the context of what’s displayed. In this regard, Summerson is a master of her craft, particularly in these following shots that are hidden in shadows, which creates an uneasy anxiety that riddles us the audience into thinking a jump scare will materialize at any second, thanks to our experience with B-grade quality horror cinema. In addition to this, the symmetry of the shot choices weigh heavily into our interpretation of what’s being articulated, especially in the following or leading Enid down these dark paths that silhouette her outline, conveying a feeling of unknown emphasis to her in those moments that speak volumes to the elements of her past that have recently resurfaced. It supplants a consistent stirring in our stomachs that plays towards the elements of the material accordingly, all the while cementing Annika as a gifted visionary whose creativity for visual storytelling knows no boundaries.
– Distracting second half. While nothing that was terribly compromising for my experience to the film, the movie’s later events abandoned a couple of the connective tissue subplots that it was juggling, all in favor for the missing sister narrative that I felt wasn’t as exciting as the social commentary unloaded by one particular subplot introduced midway through. This arc is given so much time and focus to materialize something that we come to expect will serve as a wild card by the film’s climax, but unfortunately it, as well as consequences for the movie in general, are never mentioned again, giving this film a complete lack of resolution that didn’t serve its ending well in sending a majority of audiences home happy. For my money, I appreciate enough what its brilliant strokes of creativity were going for, but I feel interpretation over clarity is never the right move in a film this psychological with its movements.
– Inconsistent dialogue. This is 50/50 for me, because there are some interactions between characters that are pleasantly subdued, occasionally requiring interpretation to outline a greater cause, and then there are those that are so on-the-nose and full of predictability that I couldn’t wait to escape from. Such an aspect of negativity springs to life each time Enid’s parents move into frame of the storytelling, heavy-handedly registering these awkward engagements that presented nothing substantial or relevatory when compared to where we the audience are at with regards to the movie’s mystery. Thankfully, there are only three such sequences throughout the film, but they did hinder my investment to the film every time they overtake the attention of the story, and don’t mesh particularly well with the integrity of the writing from the rest of the story, which never settles for obviousness to sell its intention.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+