Spoilers will say nothing.
When a film emulates the look and feel of another movie era, the eighties in this case, I have often overused the term “love letter”. You might as well count me in for implicitly doing it again. This time I’d rather not try to identify and categorize what scenes came from what iconic film because it’s not about some sort of tribute or getting clout. It’s just about whether this movie was effective. I’m going to give you a review spoiler (not a movie spoiler). It is very well executed so you should check this movie out when it comes your way.
Censor (2021) was directed by Prano Bailey-Bond who also wrote it with Anthony Fletcher. Enid (Niamh Algar) is a film censor who previews shocking horror films called “video nasties” and decides whether scenes should be cut or if the film should not see the light of day altogether. She lives a lonely life with an occasional meal with her parents, who want to find closure for the disappearance of Enid’s sister Nina. Enid is not ready to let go. When someone commits a crime that resembles one of the scenes in a film she approved, her skills are questioned by her boss as well as herself. While viewing another film, she starts recalling the day that Nina disappeared and her grasp on reality begins to slip.
I know this is familiar territory for meta horror films where the protagonist is familiar with the territory and cannot help themselves become a victim. This is, however, not about deconstructing or recognizing the tropes, but using them in the best way possible. For Enid, the option to walk away from what she does or to avoid ending up becoming another missing case is not an alternative. She is driven to find her sister, and ruining her own life and/or reputation seems like a price she’s willing to pay. Whether it’s all in her mind is not a question, we know the truth. As the audience we also feel compelled to go forward with her.
The film’s look and feel does emulate the 80’s style of the psychological thriller-horror where the protagonist’s worst enemy is their imagination. The cinematography takes full advantage of the style meaning we get subdued blues and grays with jarring hues of red and pink. Blood soaked clothing jumps at the screen. The plot is very straight forward, so you will probably be able to guess when the blood splattering begins.
Niamh Algar’s characterization of Enid is definitely carrying the film on her very stressed shoulders, and her performance is quite fitting her character. She’s not a beacon of hope or a paragon of decency, she’s a broken and flawed character and her biases compel her to break her own rules and risk her sanity. She is the highlight of the film. Another standout performances are Michael Smiley as sleazy producer Doug Smart, Sophia La Porta as actress Alice Lee and Adrian Schiller as mysterious visionary director Frederick North, a character who remains a mystery for most of the film. I also have to highlight the appearance of Guillaume Delaunay who cuts a fearsome appearance in his in-universe role of the actor that portrays “Beastman”.
Highly recommended for horror fans of the 80’s as well as horror fans in general. Unavoidably you’ll be tempted to draw comparisons to the films who used similar techniques first. I believe the style fits the story and theme without overexposing it or crowding the soundtrack with 80’s hits. Because of that, it does the 80’s without fetishizing it. Very much well worth a watch and it’s also one film I wouldn’t mind revisiting.
That will do for now.