Writer-director Prano Bailey-Bond blends art-house psychodrama with gory genre entertainment, delivering on both fronts, in “Censor,” a British horror tale that both criticizes and has fond fun with 1980s VHS viewing.
Bailey-Bond transports us back to Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in this feature debut, opening Friday in theaters, streaming on demand June 18 and screening at the Roxie on June 19.
It is 1985, a year of skyrocketing unemployment, striking miners, and video-home-system mania. The tabloids are railing against “video nasties” – super violent videos that society is blaming for virtually all of its ills.
Enid (Niamh Algar) is a censor whose job involves watching extreme-horror videos and determining whether their content — rape, dismemberment, eye-gouging— is suitable for public viewing. She takes her job seriously, and, unlike laxer colleague Sanderson (Nicholas Burns), tends to delete particularly graphic content.
“I’ve only trimmed the tiniest bit off the end of the genitals” is an example of everyday dialogue in her sometimes comically depicted workplace.
Her down-spiral begins when a gruesome crime occurs and is connected to a movie that Enid and her viewing partner approved (with cuts) for release. Enid becomes public enemy No. 1 in the media.
Further shaking Enid up is a grisly video she watches, which was produced by her boss’ sleazy, sexist chum Doug Smart (Michael Smiley) and directed by exploitation notable Frederick North (Adrian Schiller). The movie reminds Enid of a childhood tragedy — the disappearance of her sister, Nina. Enid, whose parents recently declared Nina officially dead, remains shattered by the loss.
The physical resemblance of Frederick’s lead actress to Nina convinces Enid that the actress is her presumed-dead sister. To learn the truth, Enid journeys to dark places.
As a character-driven drama about a traumatized woman on a probably deluded quest for a happy ending, the film isn’t notably deep.
As fantasy and reality blur in Enid’s mind and in Bailey-Bond’s screenplay, co-written by Anthony Fletcher, some will find the ambiguity frustrating.
But Bailey-Bond, whose influences would appear to include “Carrie,” “Taxi Driver” and the dualities and dream logic of David Lynch, displays a gift for style and mood. She never lets these elements fully eclipse character.
Her presentation of Enid’s horror scenes in a style that suggests a 1980s video — the picture gets granier, boxier, and more colorful as Enid’s unraveling continues — is an inspired one and an enjoyable nod to the past.
The horror material contains essential terror and tropes.
The excellent Algar gives Enid a wealth of dimension as she transforms from morality protector to unhinged horror figure. The actress (also in “Wrath of Man”) keeps us invested in Enid’s plight, even when we’re not sure what is happening.
The ambiguity, meanwhile, when at its finest, results in some challenging intrigue, due in part to the assuredness with which Bailey-Bond presents it. One hopes this filmmaker will return soon, perhaps collaborating with Niamh Algar again.
Starring: Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley, Nicholas Burns, Adrian Schiller
Directed by: Prano Bailey-Bond
Written by: Prano Bailey-Bond, Anthony Fletcher
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
“All Light, Everywhere,” a documentary about the use of photography in policing opening Friday in theaters, debunks the common belief that the human eye and the camera lens record reality accurately. Director Theo Anthony provides a sometimes rambling but often fascinating examination of how bias shapes images we see.
As with Anthony’s “Rat Film,” this more wide-ranging documentary features an expressionless narrator, a Baltimore setting, and both overt and deeper social themes.
Anthony’s numerous subjects include, most prominently, the body camera. We learn how the bodycam, touted as a tool for accountability, records events from the perspective of only the police officer — and thus is set up to help exonerate accused cops.
The film includes a factory tour given by a spokesperson for Axon, the company that manufactures the majority of bodycams. His comments reveal the biased nature of purportedly objective technology.
Also on the bill are a police-officer bodycam training session; a neuroscience focus group; details on eye physiology; and abundant historical information, with topics ranging from camera-outfitted military surveillance pigeons to the connection between early-20th-century weapons and cameras to a eugenicist’s composite images of human types.
A particularly compelling passage features a community meeting in which a white representative from a surveillance-plane company tries, unsuccessfully, to convince Black residents of a high-crime neighborhood that watching over their community from the sky would benefit them.
Anthony also questions the truthfulness of his own method of operation, documentary filmmaking.
This is a fact-packed and sprawling doc that at times barely holds together. Not all of its observations are enlightening. But it is a stimulating consideration of how photographic material that is widely considered truthful and objective can be the opposite of that, and how those in power have long kept a troubling eye on the powerless.
All Light Everywhere
Written and directed by: Theo Anthony
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes