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[Sundance ’21] ‘Censor’ review: Video Nasties homage filled with atmospheric storytelling

Gory and beautiful.

Making its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Censor begins with an almost loving homage to the Video Nasties that struck fear in the hearts of English politicians of the 1980s. Gory clips from many infamous films including The Driller Killer are shown. Mixed in are hysteria inducing warnings from those in charge such as Margaret Thatcher. And it worked. The general public blamed these movies for everything from being a bad student to murder.

It is into this setting the audience is introduced to Enid (Niamh Algar). Enid is a film censor who does not watch movies for entertainment but to protect everyone from them. Her sense of duty is amplified by the strange disappearance of her sister. When she is assigned a new movie, memories of her childhood begin to haunt her.

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Algar gives a stirring performance in the lead role. Initially, she is seen as an unflappable woman who is steadfast in her decisions. She takes her work seriously, but she is also convinced what she is doing is right. She is not a hypocrite nor is she just putting up airs to impress the people in her life. As Censor progresses, Enid gradually changes.

Details are revealed about her personal life and it becomes clear that Enid does have her moments of doubt. She definitely feels that work she does is for the greater good, but it is also a place for her to seek refuge. The does not have the same control over the outside world she does at work.  Algar shows great range in showing emotions that range from sheer confidence to genuine fear.

Censor is a wonderful character study, but it is a horror movie first and foremost. Coupled with the mystery involving Enid’s missing sister, the film builds an air of suspense. Lights and shadows are used exquisitely in a manner that will please giallo fans. Much of the movie is bathed in purple, reds, and dark blues. There is no mistaking it is supposed to be scary.

There are also many of the expected horror tricks of the trade. A throbbing score, jump scares, and mysterious cries can be found in Censor. Despite coming close at times, the film never leans on old tricks. The first two thirds of Censor are excellent. The movie combines mystery, character development, and horror perfectly. As the film heads towards its finale, things become unraveled. The Video Nasty aesthetic remains but the storytelling is replaced with an over the top ending. Exactly like a movie from that period. 

Continue to check out AIPT for our ongoing coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.

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