By all accounts Enid Baines is the perfect film censor. Her fastidious work ethic and principled opinions on things such as swearing and excessive depictions of genital mutilation are the perfect qualities needed for a job like hers. Indeed, she is the last line of defense in the fight to protect the world from the obscene “video nasties” that threaten to undermine the moral compass of society in the 1980s. Her day to day grind resembles less of Tipper Gore in her crusade against members of Twisted Sister and more of what Maggie Nelson’s days might have looked like while doing research for her novel The Art of Cruelty.
Enid is also a woman haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the childhood disappearance of her sister. In all likelihood, the gruesome and cathartic nature of her work probably helps Enid to deal with the loss of her sibling. However some demons are not so easily exorcised, and the more Enid throws herself into her work, the closer she comes to discovering the truth of what actually happened. When one day a Enid stumbles upon a film with an eerie semblance to her own memories, she is forced to question the reality in which she has long sought solace.
By the ten minute mark, most viewers will already by exceedingly clear on whether or not this film is for them. The film opens with a blood spattering homage to classic horror films, doing so in a way that walks the line between campy and disturbing. It’s a great tone-setter and does a good job at hinting at terrors to come, while at the same time establishing that it in no way takes itself too seriously.
The leftover vestiges of the film’s shocking opening sequence are hard to shake. Because of this, the film holds its viewers captive in a perpetual catatonic state of shock, unable to tear their eyes away from the screen, and with a strong sense of foreboding for the climax to come. As the lines between fantasy and reality become ever so blurred, so too does director Prano Bailey-Bond’s aesthetic approach. With its stuttered scares, frenetic cuts and ever-shifting aspect ratios and perspectives, the film is a shocking execution of cinematic wit and prowess.
At its core, Censor is also a film about trauma; trauma for those who seek safety and refuge in the exaggerated violence of the horror genre; the trauma of those whose job it is to moderate such content; but also about the trauma of everyday life. Many of the film’s most terrifying moments are not experienced during Enid’s labored screenings, but in the moments that follow shortly after, when she must walk alone to the train station, or navigate conversations with an overly-aggressive male actor. It is something that is sure to strike a chord with any true horror fan.
Horror films do a great job of tapping into the more primitive areas of our brain, bogging them down in an ethereal fog that permeates the halls of your psyche long after you leave the theater. We are not scared as much by the axe murderer on screen as we are by the long walks home where our imaginations cast suspicions into every dark billowy shadow that litter our path home. As a censor, Enid is never afforded the luxury of readjusting to reality. For her, the threads that tie her to reality are ever thinning and oh so easily frayed. All it takes is a simple tug or snare, and the whole thing comes toppling down.
Censor is a guaranteed crowd pleaser and a fitting ode to the golden age of 80s horror films. Like Brian DePalma in his early days, Bailey-Bond pays her fealty to the films and tropes that helped shape her artistically, while at the same time using these familiar spaces to help construct a voice that is both creative and uniquely her own. Coming in at a lean 84 minutes, Censor is the perfect length and a flawless feature-length debut. It’s just long enough to reasonably establish its characters and plot, but not so long that it overstays its welcome or tests the patience of its audience.
The whole thing culminates in an insanely bizarre climax that defies definition and must be seen to be believed. It is a film that stays with you long after the screen has gone dark, and might even make you seek out that night light you treasured as a child. As for director Bailey-Bond, this film marks the beginning of what will hopefully be a truly remarkable career. Keep your eye on her, and remember this film whenever you need a deep cut to impress your friends with.