Festivals, Reviews

Sundance 2021: ‘Censor’ is a Campy Gore Galore that Doesn’t Quite Find its Footing

Welsh filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond’s debut Censor is an homage to the 80’s and the infamous “video nasties” of the era in Thatcher’s Britain.

Enid (Niamh Algar), a film censor, is a workaholic with a meticulous eye for detail. Her job is to protect British audiences from the ”nasties,” as some critics connect these films to the rise in crime and violence in the streets. One particular film triggers a memory she thought she had forgotten, so she begins to connect the dots between the film and her past.

Censor starts off with a well-established main character. The film does a great job setting up Enid and what she wants, but as the film progresses, her character development becomes stagnant. The film felt like it was going nowhere and I was anticipating something to happen, but it could not come any sooner. 

As soon as my interest was slipping away, the film grabbed me back. The second part was a ride. In tracing the origin of the mysterious film, Enid encounters a producer who previously objectified her. The ending was the peak for me; it was an amazing mix of VHS-like aesthetic with surrealist elements. That said, while the ending was great, the rest of the film didn’t quite hit. The start dragged, being introduced as horror even though it never felt like it. It was a slow burn that just rushes everything as it nears the end.

The male gaze is a prominent theme throughout the film. In one scene, during her break from film censoring, Enid talks to a female co-worker who questions the need for violence and gore in the film they recently viewed. Enid answers that it’s because it was made by men. It’s an effective commentary on how we need more women in horror, as gory horror made by men is often unnecessarily violent towards female characters. 

The 80’s setting set the tone and aesthetic of the film. Everything felt cohesive, from the neon lights to the VHS-like feel of the second half, which worked really well in separating what was real and what wasn’t. Its campy gore effects may look ridiculous, but it was perfect for the era.

Maybe on a second watch I’d appreciate Censor more. Its storyline had so much potential, but it became directionless and draggy. However, its campiness and commentary on women in horror may make the film a cult favorite among a niche audience in the near future.

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