Censor (2021); Dir: Prano Bailey-Bond. Screenwriters: Anthony Fletcher & Prano Bailey-Bond.

(Spoiler-Free Review+ Q&A w/ Director)

Last night I was extremely lucky to be able to attend a preview screening of Censor followed by a Q&A with up-and-coming director: Prano Bailey-Bond at Edinburgh institution, The Cameo Picturehouse.

The tension among the crowd was palpable with many audience members audibly gasping and squirming in their seats throughout Bond’s anxiety-inducing debut feature film.

Censor is a love letter to the bygone era of ‘Video Nasties’; a brand of extreme, often banned and heavily censored Horror films which readily became a scapegoat for the socio-economic and cultural unrest of 1980’s Thatcher Britain.

Censor itself deals with the theme of scapegoating amidst a backdrop of mass hysteria drummed up by the tabloid press and questionable politicians of this era.

Niamh Algar gives a blinding performance as our protagonist Enid Baines; a film censor working in a male-dominated industry whose job description involves watching and judging a myriad of films largely involving sexual violence and, trauma inflicted upon women at the hands of men.

Enid’s grasp on reality slides on a downward trajectory when she views an alleged ‘Snuff’ or ‘Nasty’ which, she is convinced stars her lost sister who went missing when they were both children.

When we are first introduced to Enid we are privy to her deteriorating mental state within increasingly stressful and, often unsafe situations.

Bailey-Bond describes Horror films as: ‘’A safe space in which we can experience and process Trauma’’.

Unfortunately for Enid, she has no safe space in which she can process her own past Traumas and, these resurface and climax in violent and shocking ways.

Being a woman with a Trauma diagnosis myself, I felt an uneasy connection and kinship with Enid; being unable to trust one’s own memory or interpretation of events is more frightening and debilitating than any of the exorbitant, garish murder scenes depicted in ‘Video Nasties’.

Bailey-Bond’s power lies in her ability to weave a Meta story viewed through the eyes of an unreliable narrator…and yet we are still willing to believe Enid’s warped view of events unfolding before hers and, our own eyes.

The Meta aspect stems from the storyline: a young film censor must navigate the ethics of deciding what is and isn’t safe for public view while losing herself in daydreams and fantasy brought on by unacknowledged Trauma and, the horrific images she is witnessing daily.

As an audience we are pulled into Enid’s dizzying journey through seedy backalley video stores, potential sexual assaults, sexism, bullying, hounding from the press and threats of violence- all experienced from the safe gloom of our cinema seats.

This adds another clever layer to this film; it forces us to become silent voyeurs gleaning enjoyment from the woman’s emotional distress onscreen.

Are we culpable in the suffering of others solely for the purpose of entertainment when we consume pornography; when we follow the video link to the death of an animal onscreen; when we witness real world violence in the streets and, simply turn our heads away?

Visually, Censor is stunning; from choosing to present 80’s UK as an oblique landscape steeped in dull rain-coloured tones which is juxtaposition to the green and red lighting which serves to make the colours of blood and viscera pop.

Stylistically, it is easy to glean Bailey-Bond’s love for Italian Giallo films from masters such as Dario Argento and, Mario Bava but here she lends a more grounded, feminine touch which is anchored by Algar’s vulnerable yet menacing performance.

It was also a pleasure to see the innumerably talented Michael Smiley play sleazy film producer Doug Smart.

Doug represents the ‘Male Gaze’ as well as the nepotism and culture of exploitative men in the film industry; his unwanted flirtatious advances quickly escalate into unnerving territory while his smugness around being untouchable gives a stark contrast to his cheerful demeanour.

Smiley perfectly encapsulates the polar extremes of male desire; his unpredictable personality metamorphoses between flirty banter and eruptions of unbridled anger when his unprovoked and unwanted advances aren’t met.

Censor is tense, brave and unbiased in its delivery of portraying Trauma, particularly the everyday Traumas experienced by women and girls yet it does so without preaching or, smacking us in the face with exposition and social commentary.

I was lucky enough to be able to ask Prano a question pertaining to these themes and her answer perfectly aligned with my own interpretations of her feature film.

Q: ‘’Prano, firstly I loved the film. You have mentioned that Horror (films) provide the viewer with a safe space in which to process Trauma.

Censor is very much a love letter to Video Nasties; films in which violence and Trauma is inflicted upon women by men. Was it a conscious decision for you to make the Protagonist female and what informed this choice?’’

A: (Prano) : ‘’Wow, that’s a very good question. Well, initially I had written the protagonist as male but I decided to change this. I love Video Nasties but I am a woman; what interested me was writing a complex role typically portrayed by a man for the role of a woman. We are used to seeing men in violent roles making unethical choices however I wanted to lend a narrative based upon my own experiences while also stating that women are equally capable of questionable choices and acts. We have already seen Horror films revolving around weak women suffering at the hands of men; I thought that it would be fun to flip this narrative on it’s head.’’

Censor will flip your conceptions of female wrath on their head and subvert your expectations of the classic Midnight Movie narrative.

Censor is available in participating cinemas including Picturehouses and, Cineworld on: 20/08/2021