Censor (2021)

Censor has been on my radar all year, since I heard about it, partly because it was set in the era of video nasties, and partly because it seemed to speak to the whole experience of watching horror films. It didn’t disappoint. Enid Baines is a censor at the British Board of Film Classification. Her parents decide it is time to have her long-missing sister declared dead. Enid is a vigilant censor who is seen by some of her colleagues as excessive, but when a man kills his wife and children, copying the gruesome death in a film Enid recently passed for public viewing, she blames herself, and her daily life, the films she has to watch, and memories of her sister, begin to bleed together.

There’s a great interview with director Prano Bailey-Bond in the June issue of Sight & Sound magazine, where she talks about the psychological act of self-censorship, and ‘the positive power of forbidden cinema’. Enid is even more censorious of her childhood memories than she is of the films she watches in work, and as her gentle ex-psychotherapist colleague says, it’s amazing what the mind can edit out to protect itself. Her parents are sweet, but massively repressed, and Enid keeps her colleagues at arm’s length, while not seeming to have any friends. She is alone with her trauma, cutting films to keep the public safe, but also fascinated by what’s in them.

The final act is clever, and funny, which slightly spoils the atmosphere, so by the end I found myself a little disconnected from Enid’s plight. The whole film is really well-crafted, with a fantastic performance by Niamh Algar as Enid, who wills into her reality that which she is desperate to be true. To quote Bailey-Bond, where she is talking about horror audiences: ‘In the fiction of the horror world, they can have what they want, when they can’t in real life.’