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Censor (Horror Movie Review) - Sundance Film Festival

Censor (Horror Movie Review) - Sundance Film Festival
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PLOT: A British film censor (Niamh Algar) becomes obsessed with a gory slasher flick that echoes her repressed childhood memories.

REVIEW: “In the future, if you have even the slightest doubt, just reject the film!” This is what Censor’s heroine, Enid (Niamh Algar) is told early on in the film. You see, she works as a censor in early-80s Britain, in charge of “video nasties”, a category of films such as The Driller Killer, Cannibal Holocaust, Tenebre, and more were consigned to in the early days of home video. If they didn’t pass muster with the censors, they didn’t come out. And if they did come out - they would be cut to shreds.

censor Sundance 2021

This is the real-life basis for Prano Bailey-Bond’s stylish Censor, with our uptight heroine cutting vintage horror movies to the bone left and right, with her taking her mission as the puritanical watchdog of horror deadly seriously. This background gives the film some interesting historical context, not unlike Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio. It’s a strong debut from writer-director Bailey-Bond, and a terrific showcase for Raised By Wolves’ Niamh Algar.

It’s an intriguing character study, with Algar a believably conflicted heroine. She has a puritanical zeal when banning films. At the same time she's slowly becoming more and more obsessed with the gory images she’s cutting. It turns out, as a child her sister vanished on her watch, and eventually, she becomes convinced that the actress in a gory splatter flick from a ghoulish director is her long-lost sibling. This sends her down a rabbit hole, trying to discover exactly what’s going on with these movies. Algar is a striking actress, believable evoking the character’s repression and eventual quasi-liberation as she goes quickly goes mad.

A showcase for both Algar and Bailey-Bond’s style (with her playing with aspect ratios and film stocks throughout), Censor seems primed to put both on the map in a big way. Technical credits, on the whole, are top-notch, with DP Annika Summerson contributing some arresting visuals, while Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch's avant-garde score is pitch-perfect.

While likely more on the arthouse side of the genre spectrum (A24 or Neon should pick it up), the movie doesn’t skimp on the gore and has fun with the threadbare style of so many glorious early-80s classics. Underneath all the style though, there’s real substance, including the danger of repression and censorship. It has a killer ending, and a blackly comic heart, with a gonzo, gore-splattered finale that could help it become a cult classic. Plus, genre stalwart Michael Smiley contributes a fun cameo as a sleazy horror producer. All in all, this is a fun ride and a delightfully gruesome start to this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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