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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Censor’ Mostly is Able to Mix Gore and Psychological Horror

Magnolia Pictures

A genre picture that finds a new setting for its story is never a bad thing in my book. Some level of uniqueness, however you find it, is a definite leg up. Playing as a Midnight offering here at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Censor has that up its sleeve. A period piece that plays around with gore in some really interesting ways, the movie has more to offer than just copious amounts of blood. The viscera is there, don’t get me wrong, but the flick is hardly a one-note offering. Sundance has recently been a solid spot for horror, so while this is a more of a psychological horror, it should still scratch an itch.

Censor is an occasionally nasty piece of business, but it’s as much about how someone reacts to gore, as it is a showcase for gore. It some ways, it reminded me of Berberian Sound Studio, which also loves genre film deeply. That love matters here, since the shots of extreme violence are all part of a homage to a time and place. Without that, it could come off as mean-spirited.

Taking place in England during the Video Nasties panic of the 1980s, we follow Enid Baines (Niamh Algar) a film censor. Each day, she goes to work and watches the most violent in English cinema, making cuts and sometimes outright rejecting films. Enid is good at her job, but a new video nasty is about to cause some trouble. As she deals with the fallout of a prior movie being released, a work from a controversial filmmaker triggers her memories of the disappearance of her sister, years ago.

Unsettled by this, Enid begins to lose her sense of control, especially when she becomes convinced that a woman in the film is actually her sister. Thus begins a quest to uncover her location, going down the rabbit hole of the video nasty world, hoping to find the elusive director Frederick North (Adrian Schiller). As her parents worry, she starts to lose a grip on reality.

The performance from Niamh Algar anchors the project. She commits to the psychological aspect, showcasing a woman who more and more winds up on the edge. She brings it out slowly, something that helps invest you in her plight. Algar is very good here, and easily the highlight of a cast that otherwise comes off as somewhat amateurish.

Filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond is definitely primed to be a force in genre filmmaking. The script she penned with Anthony Fletcher is fairly ambitious, so her direction needs to be as well. Along with investing deeply in Algar’s performance, Bailey-Bond really leans in to the feeling of the period. Bailey-Bond and Fletcher rush a bit through the third act, so the pacing isn’t as tight as it could be. However, it goes to some pretty interesting places. The end result is a successful directorial debut. Censor likely will lead to bigger and better things for her. Bailey-Bond has got the goods.

Censor has plenty to offer for genre fans. If you enjoy horror, and especially psychological horror, this is one to look out for. While it’s likely not the next breakout Sundance horror hit, cinephiles will get a kick out of this one. Keep an eye out for it once it leaves Park City!

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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