Censor review – a brilliantly adventurous horror debut

his thrilling, dizzying debut from Welsh writer-director Prano Bailey-Bond is a nostalgic treat for anyone old enough to remember the infamous “video nasties” scare of the early 80s. Yet beneath the retro surface lies a more universal tale about the power of horror to confront our deepest fears – a timeless celebration of the liberating nature of the dark side. Blessed with a sharp eye for period detail (horror maven Kim Newman gets an exec-producer credit) and a refreshingly irreverent attitude to nerdy fan-boy “facts”, Censor conjures a serpentine tale of trauma, repression and liberation, all mediated through the deliciously tactile medium of illicit videotapes and pre-internet media panics.

Niamh Algar, who proved so mesmerising in Calm With Horses, is Enid, a film censor who spends her days watching, cutting and classifying scenes of violence in mid-80s Britain. It’s a queasy time, with press and public eager to find a scapegoat for the nation’s many ills. Yet despite being shocked by much of what she sees on tape, Enid is also strangely drawn to some of the more outre horror titles, particularly the work of cult director Frederick North (Adrian Schiller), whose schlocky, scary movies seem to offer answers to long-buried questions. As Enid’s macabre fascination grows, so fiction and reality become intertwined.

Censor has its roots in Bailey-Bond’s 2015 short Nasty, in which a young boy searching for his father finds a family connection through the portal of horror videos. Although the narratives of Nasty Censor are very different, both involve a character longing for a lost loved one, being drawn into the world of the nasties – literally. Wittily inverting cliches about the damaging effects of horror, Bailey-Bond invokes and, 더 중요한 것은, embraces the spectre of a modern folk-devil, her protagonists finding solace in the eye of the storm in a manner that will strike a chord with horror fans everywhere.

There are echoes of Atom Egoyan’s The AdjusterCensor’s depiction of the fetishised rituals of film classification, with Enid trapped within the warren-like corridors and cubbyholes of her profession, surrounded by the muffled sounds of torture and sin. Plaudits to production designer Paulina Rzeszowska, who gets the weirdly seedy atmosphere of the censors’ offices just so; and to sound designer Tim Harrison, who used the 1978 animation Watership Down – a traumatising mix of heartbreak and horror – for spatial inspiration. By contrast, the progression from dreary reality to more outlandish fantasy sees Censor shifting towards the visual metaphors of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome as Enid becomes engulfed by North’s latest garish production.

It’s a credit to Algar that she breathes such empathic life into a character built upon reservoirs of repression and denial. From nervy early scenes in which revulsion and fascination do tight-lipped battle across her face, to later descents into full-blooded, fantastical battle mode, Algar judges the emotional temperature of each phase of Enid’s journey with pinpoint precision. Michael Smiley, 그 동안에, plays North’s smarmy producer Doug Smart as a symphony of elongated vowels and patronising threats; and Guillaume Delaunay is terrifically imposing as the quasi-mythical Beastman (a character inspired by Michael Berryman’s iconic presence in Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes), who embodies the dichotomous blend of fear and sympathy that lies at the heart of so much horror fiction.

A throbbing soundscape score by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch (who worked intimate wonders on Only You) melds with Annika Summerson’s tactile 35mm cinematography to evoke the squishy ambience of the era, while powerful use is made of Blanck Mass’s spiralling track Chernobylpreviously heard in Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. It all adds up to a brilliantly adventurous first feature from a razor-sharp film-maker on the rise, who joins the likes of Jennifer Kent, Julia Ducournau, Natalie Erika James, Rose Glass et al in proving that the future of cutting-edge horror is fearless, forthright and female.

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