Enid (Niamh Algar), the protagonist of Censor, probably should not have the occupation that she does. By the end of this cinematic fever dream, that much is clear, even if not much else about co-writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond’s film is as clear. Enid works in a film office in ‘80s London editing out bits of the overly graphic violent or sexual content of extreme cinema, its release or banishment coming down to her and her colleagues. The problem with Enid, though, is her hazy memory of her own childhood, during which her sister went missing under suspicious and traumatizing circumstances.

This is what appears to be the film’s plot for some time, and the opening act explores what it might be like to hold a position as film censor. Enid watches the gouging of eyes, the ripping of throats and the tearing of limbs without batting an eye. She barely thinks about it anymore, she tells co-worker Perkins (Danny Lee Wynter) following a particularly troubling scene of sexual assault in a film on which they are working. One expects that a complete desensitization from such violence in the media Enid consumes might be more helpful in performing her duties, but there’s something a little troubling about her answer. This seems to be the social commentary from Bailey-Bond and co-screenwriter Anthony Fletcher. Viewers tracking their own response to screen violence here – whether it be footage on which Enid and her co-workers take notes or the violence that defines Censor’s truly insane climax—may note that the progression of graphic violence in cinema has led to the kind of desensitization that Enid experiences.

Yet there is a more ambiguous level to the movie, and it helps that the filmmakers have grounded the character of Enid in a very real sense of long-term trauma and grief. She watches and edits these bits of onscreen carnage and cruelty as a way of pushing off the trauma of her sister’s disappearance or (in the eyes of her parents, who have given up hope) death. Something finally breaks when a grisly murder rocks the suburbs outside London: A man has killed his wife and children, and – well, let’s say he didn’t exactly respect his late spouse’s corpse. The killing was remarkably similar to that of a movie sequence, poorly edited by Enid and a co-worker, and in Thatcher’s London, a place of conservative and family values, the prosecutors are looking for a scapegoat.

This informs the remainder of the film’s plot, which has Enid and Perkins assigned to review and edit a low-budget horror item from a reclusive director (Adrian Schiller). The job is overseen by its chauvinistic pig of a producer (Michael Smiley), who leers at Enid to do some acting for him, preferably in the type of role that might diplomatically be called objectification. As for the movie being reviewed, Enid becomes convinced that the lead actress (Sophia La Porta) is not “Alice Lee” but in fact her thought-dead sister Nina (Amelie Child-Villiers) grown up, and as reality fractures for Enid, so does any relationship to those people around her.

What’s really going on in Censor is answered as ambiguously as Bailey-Bond and Fletcher can muster, and the final 10 minutes or so do contain an undeniable power in spelling out what that answer could be. This is in large part due to Algar’s revelatory performance as an emotionally drained shell of a woman who lost some piece of herself long ago and never regained it. That quality remains through even the more frustrating patches of a climax that could use a little more clarity, and it’s a performance that bolsters, then elevates, the film around it.

Algar’s performance as an emotionally drained woman who lost a piece of herself long ago is revelatory.
70 %
Violence in Media
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