You wouldn't necessarily associate a low-budget British horror with an extended universe, but Censor has one – even if it wasn't necessarily planned.
The haunting and chilling new movie marks the feature debut of Prano Bailey-Bond and if you delve into her work, you'll find a short movie called Nasty that appears to have been the inspiration for Censor. However, it was actually the other way around in terms of development, despite Nasty premiering in 2015.
Nasty sees a 12-year-old boy drawn into the 'video nasty' era of the 1980s as he explores the disappearance of his father, while Censor sees film censor Enid (in the same era) discover a horror that might link to her sister's disappearance.
"I had the idea for Censor first off in around 2012, and I started developing the feature. And then off the back of some of the research in the 'video nasty' era, I was reading a lot about the concern around the effect of 'video nasties' on children in the UK," Bailey-Bond tells Digital Spy.
"I thought, 'Ooh, it would be really interesting to do a short film where I could explore some of the techniques and ideas, but not have it be the same story'. So it's almost like a story that could be going on across town at the same time as Censor, during the same period. But a lot of the ideas from Nasty kind of fed back into Censor."
Unintentional cinematic universe or not, you don't need to have seen Nasty to appreciate Censor unlike some MCU movies. After debuting at Sundance in January 2021, Censor has finally been unleashed on UK audiences, but be set for a delve into an uneasy world that'll be hard to forget.
Set in 1985, the movie explores the 'video nasty' era from a unique perspective with Bailey-Bond – who co-wrote with Anthony Fletcher – researching the notorious era from the best source possible: the British Board of Film Classification.
She delved into the files on iconic nasties such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and I Spit on Your Grave, as well as speaking to film censors from the era and those working at the BBFC today. Naturally, when it came time for the BBFC to rate Censor itself, it was a meta experience.
"I was really interested to see how [the BBFC] would react to the film. They've been very supportive [and] they said [it] was the most meta experience they've ever had, which I loved, because I've always had this image of the BBFC examining Enid examining the film-within-the-film," Bailey-Bond says with a laugh.
"I was really pleased that they found it odd as well. They gave the film a 15, which I think is fine. I don't think it's intense and gory enough – they said it didn't dwell on violence. So if I want an 18, I know what to do next time."
As Bailey-Bond adds, it's quite an unusual thing for the BBFC to see their work depicted on screen as we see Enid go about her day job. You can even have a go yourself at rating the trailer for the movie to see if you could make it as a censor.
However, Censor isn't a documentary about the BBFC, so it's not long before the movie starts to blur the lines between fiction and reality as Enid tries to solve the disappearance of her sister.
For the challenging role of Enid, Bailey-Bond needed a star who could disappear into the role and keep the audience's attention once the weird shit started. Enter the supremely talent Niamh Algar, with the director watching as much of her work both before and during the casting process.
"I think her role in Censor is very different from the roles that she played before, but actually, most of her roles are very different. She's quite chameleonesque. It was very much that she came in, and she had all the ingredients that I knew would make an incredible Enid," Bailey-Bond enthuses.
"I knew that she was a talented and electric-enough actor to hold us through the story. Because Enid is the story, ultimately. So I needed to find somebody who could really carry the film, and I knew that Niamh's shoulders were strong enough for that."
It's an astonishing performance from Algar which should surprise nobody who's seen her work in the likes of The Virtues and Deceit. Enid might initially seem like a strait-laced and dry character, but Censor quietly chips away at what we see on the surface as she slowly unravels in front of our eyes.
As well as seeing the inner workings of the BBFC (although they're never strictly named in the movie), Censor also explores the real-life issue of mental health in a similar fashion t0 stand-out 2020 horror Saint Maud.
For Bailey-Bond, the horror genre has a particular strength when it comes to exploring such subject matter.
"I think the thing that horror can do that other genres can't do is take it to the extreme. You know, we can bend the rules in horror. It's not reality. We can really push ideas to the extreme, and take them out into much more wild, imaginative spaces," she explains.
"We can manifest the internal in the external in horror – in a way that if you did that in a non-genre film, it would not be believable. I think that's one of the things that horror allows you to do. And also, I think that horror's really fun. You can have a lot of fun with these ideas.
"You can talk about some quite serious things, but actually in a way that is quite entertaining, and can still land with people. It's not that you're making mental health fun, obviously. It's more that you can, you know, translate these ideas in an entertaining way that perhaps can reach more audiences."
As Censor moves towards its shocking climax (which includes a quite brilliant aspect ratio change), the viewer is still with Enid and you might have even started to question what's real and what's not.
If you're a bit unsure when Censor ends, well, that's kind of the point.
"I had very clear reasons as to why I didn't want to explain some things. And [the producers] were happy for me to go down that road, because they understood why I was doing that," Bailey-Bond concludes.
"I like the idea of leaving things open for people to bring what they believe to it. I always wanted to be in Enid's point of view, and Enid doesn't find certain things out. So as the audience, we should be left knowing what she knows. And I think that's interesting, because then people can have conversations around that."
One thing's for sure, you absolutely will want to be talking about Censor once you've seen it.
Censor is out now in UK cinemas.
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