Review: 'Censor' a Horror That Examines Violence and Gender in Media

by Megan Kearns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 11, 2021

Niamh Algar in 'Censor'
Niamh Algar in 'Censor'  (Source:Magnolia Pictures)

There is a long history of blaming violence in art and media for people's violent actions. Set in 1980s London, "Censor" follows Enid (Niamh Algar), who works as a censor rejecting horror films or editing out gore for public distribution. It's the era of the "video nasties," low-budget horror films in the UK distributed on VHS, which the media blames for "rising crime." In the film's opening, an audio montage of news reports condemning horror films juxtaposes with gory images Enid watches — for instance, a screaming woman's arm stabbed, or a drill going into a man's head.

Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond and co-written by her and Anthony Fletcher, this horror film fascinatingly examines violence and gender in media. "Censor" is a compelling, thought-provoking film. I originally saw it during its premiere at Sundance this year; my mind lingered over it for months afterwards.

Enid takes her job extremely seriously and strives for perfection, in contrast to her cavalier, mostly male colleagues. In a great, albeit disturbing, scene, we hear off-screen screams while the camera remains on Enid and her colleague Anne as they uncomfortably watch a brutal rape scene. They discuss why male directors make such films.

Niamh Algar gives a fantastic, nuanced performance full of pathos. She vacillates between meticulously composed and rigidly resolute in the beginning and falling apart by the film's end. Enid anxiously picks at the skin on her fingers, betraying her unease. Slowly unraveling, Algar imbues her character with fragility and desperation. "Censor" hinges on her strong performance.

Enid faces a personal trauma: Her sister Nina disappeared at age 7. Her parents want to move on, and officially declare her deceased, but Enid desperately believes she's still alive. Enid sees her role as "protecting" people from graphic footage, perhaps compensating for how she feels she couldn't protect her sister.

The stress of Enid's personal and professional lives collide when the news links a murder to a film she edited. She receives harassing phone calls. She becomes obsessed with a film about two teen girls, having nightmares and flashes of herself and Nina. Enid becomes convinced an actress in a film she sees is actually Nina, and begins frantically searching for her.

Punctuated with striking neon lighting, "Censor" boasts stellar editing and great cinematography. When Enid drives to a film shoot in the third act, the aspect ratio gets narrower and narrower, reflecting a film within a film while visually conveying how Enid's world closes in. Fiction and reality eventually bleed together in brutal and phantasmagorical ways, until Enid can no longer discern between them.

While deftly paying homage to '80s horror, "Censor" is an intriguing exploration of personal trauma and film violence. While some people blame violent art for societal problems, "Censor" acknowledges the true culprit: The elimination of social services, which Enid's co-worker Anne questions. What if Enid expressed her grief, guilt, and shame over her sister's disappearance in therapy rather than suppressing her emotions?

Films do impact us emotionally. The relationship between art and audience reveals here the need to express emotions and heal from trauma.

"Censor" releases in theaters on June 11, 2021 and on VOD on June 18, 2021.