Censor is the latest cursed horror to keep you up at night

Every year has a word-of-mouth horror hit. 2021's is this chilling riff on the old-school video nasty.

by Douglas Greenwood
16 August 2021, 10:25am

Vertigo Releasing

When Ari Aster’s Hereditary premiered at Sundance Film Festival back in 2018, it quickly became a word-of-mouth hit, with audiences chomping at the bit to see it come release. Similarly, it marked the festival — based in Utah and home to other cult hits like Call Me By Your Name and Donnie Darko — as a strong birthplace for indie horror. The next one promising to achieve a similar fate? It’s a British-made 1980s-set thriller helmed by the hugely talented new filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond called Censor.

Starring Niamh Algar, of Calm With Horses and Raised by Wolves fame, Censor tells the story of a young woman living in 1980s London who works for a video censorship agency, deciding what cuts will be made on films before they get a wide release. It’s the height of the video nasties era -- a time when ultra violent horror films were being made, catering to the bloodthirsty masses -- and so she’s exposed to the most stomach-churning material. But her life soon spirals when she sees a film that strangely mirrors an unsolved tragedy of her family’s past. Do the answers to her grief lie in the celluloid frames of a bloody horror?

niamh algar in censor

In what feels like a strange twist of fate, this fairly unassuming British movie became one of the most talked about films of the festival, and rightly so: Censor is a clever work of horror mindfuckery, burying a subtext of grief beneath a brilliantly formed and believable psychothriller. It flits between worlds -- within a B-Movie (expertly recreated by Prano Bailey-Bond) and within the mindset of a woman slowly being driven mad by the nature of her work. The streets and alleyways of London become creaking, shifty spaces of paranoia. The characters in these movies look oddly familiar, and soon, everything begins to blur.

British horror has a patchy history, but here Prano undoes the low-stakes scares and meagre budgets most are made from. There’s a restless creepiness in Censor that never lets up, and the movies full-on embracing of B-movie video nasties, known for their crassness, means what’s usually comical is more macabre and gruesome.

Has that whet your appetite? Well, you’re in luck. US horror fans can stream Censor here, courtesy of Magnet Releasing. In the UK? It arrives in cinemas on Friday 20 August thanks to Vertigo.