CENSOR is a tremendously powerful and haunting film that takes on censorship, the kind that governments apply to art and the kind that we apply to ourselves that never takes itself too seriously. It has a huge affection for gory and controversial horror films and a sharp dry wit that slashes through the rarefied airs of a government censorship office and our own judgments and beliefs. Prano Bailey-Bond has constructed a world that might be largely in the mind of the lead character, played by Niamh Algar in a brilliant, stoic, yet heartrendingly vulnerable performance, and trauma victim who seeks to control the evils in the world through censoring films. CENSOR is a disturbing and hilarious fantasyland where the easy solutions that we humans seek betray us in the end.
I had the opportunity to speak to Prano Bailey-Bond and Niamh Algar about the film, the process of filmmaking, and where real horror actually resides.
I would like to ask both of you the same question. What did you find fun or what did you really enjoy about making CENSOR?
Prano Bailey-Bond: I think for me it was the moments on set where I was watching Niamh. I’d be at the monitor and I’d become so engrossed emotionally in Enid’s journey. It was like I was really watching it happen at times. I’d get quite emotional actually behind the camera and while I was watching the monitor. When we shot for a couple of scenes, in particular, that stick out to me. One of those was the scene where she watches Don’t Go In The Church and Niamh was just on fire in terms of performance with just watching and reacting to the film while there was actually nothing playing in front of Niamh. It was a really thrilling experience as a director and a writer to see something you wrote play out in front of you. It’s quite a surreal thing to experience. Also, in one of the later scenes, when we’re in the ravine with Alice Lee, I actually had to cover myself up with a hood because I was getting so emotional. I didn’t want the crew to see my face while I was watching Niamh’s performance. So those were a couple of my favorite onset moments.
Niamh Algar: I just enjoyed the whole process really. I enjoyed it from when we were in the rehearsal studio and the first fittings for the character. Because the character is just so different from the way I look with the dark hair and the glasses and the collaboration involved with that. Just seeing Prano in full swing with all the different departments. It really reminded me of why I love this and to Iearn so much from the crew and cast around you. It’s funny because it was at the end of the film and I don’t want to spoil anything, but you know when there’s that moment, the kind of the crossover. It was probably, for me, the most fun because I was pushing the emotional boundaries of character and exploring emotions that I hadn’t really seen portrayed on screen before. For me, that was such a fun feeling, I suppose. Sometimes there was a chance of really getting into a scene and then be on the receiving end of Prano watching and starting to act out the moment with you. Our DoP, Annika [Summerson] filmed it. She got the scene where Prano was playing out this moment of what I was doing in the scene and it was just coming across her face on camera. I feel like that should be in the film. It was spectacular.
Bailey-Bond: That’s what I meant, that was why I had to put the hood over my head.
I understand. I would say that it’s very clear why you felt that way, because I felt like that myself during that scene. I felt very strongly attached to the character. It’s great to hear that you were standing there doing the same thing, because I think that’s what the audience does. The scene evokes a very strong empathetic reaction. Niamh’s performance is so wonderful that the audience really gets involved. They really empathize with her even though she’s not a person who has big emotional reactions. You feel for her in a very real way. It’s great work.
Prano, why did you decide to tell the story this way? It’s about this woman and family, how we don’t deal with our emotions and also censorship in a society. It seems like you’re talking about a lot of different topics that are all interrelated and similar. That you are using both the microcosm and the macrocosm to have this discussion.
Bailey-Bond: I think there’s a danger of censorship both in art and in the way we censor ourselves. I think I’m quite fascinated by repression. I sort of think of horror as being about the return of the things you have repressed. It’s the thing that you push away, don’t look at in your life or in yourself. The thing you don’t want to address that comes and gets you in the end. I think about the way that we self-censor, sometimes our brains do that for us. Our brain systems handle traumatic experiences that we can’t handle for us at that moment but eventually have to.
Sometimes we are self-censoring things because we don’t think that we should behave like that or it’s not appropriate to feel this feeling. Those things do come out in the end. They bubble away and they seek out may be more twisted ways to emerge if we don’t actually sit and deal with them. I think equally that the idea of artistic censorship is a very dangerous thing. We should be able to express ourselves and speak about things that are political and important to us. I suppose I was looking at these things side by side, you know. You don’t start a project with all of that in your head obviously. It’s the process where you start with a seed of an idea and then you’re almost going on a journey to understand what it is that you’re trying to say through the project and figuring out what chimes with you. Then figuring out what makes a good story, what is exciting and inspiring for you enough for you to want to actually create it.
I think that’s a great point because I think that there’s an unconscious component of creativity that we don’t fully understand. We don’t understand exactly what we’re doing in some ways until we’re finished. Maybe we don’t understand our creations completely until afterward.
Niamh, how did you find your way into the character? What attracted you to Enid? You obviously connected with a character very strongly. How did it work for you?
Algar: For me, for a character, it is me trying to answer the question, what is their biggest fear? For Enid, I always felt that her biggest fear is that she will never understand the truth about what happened and that maybe she’s a bad person. We all, in some way, think that we are to blame for something. I think for Enid, she has this incredible guilt that she’s carrying around. For me trying to get into that character, I did a lot of research on the effects of childhood trauma and repressed memories. The idea that something so bad could have happened to you as a child that you could not remember it and why is it that you couldn’t remember that? I just kind of built the character from there, so for me, it was never kind of looking at where the character is going to end because that hasn’t happened yet. It’s just almost figuring out where the characters come from and this incredibly claustrophobic relationship that she has with her mum and dad and it’s so detached. I look at Enid’s world which she inhabits. It’s so lonely and it’s just so detached. It’s kind of nocturnal. I’m kind of always thinking what if this character has never really gone outside and for her, it’s this habitat of living in a really grimy and smoky censors office? It suits the character. Why is it that she’s found herself doing that job? We always talked about whether she comes from a place where she’s constantly self-sabotaging because she is always running away from something? Or she kept trying to fix this problem? Is she trying to protect the public from something, I suppose, from seeing something that, as a child, destroyed her life? It was never really one thing. It was all these things and when one opened Pandora’s box for Enid then all this other stuff would come out. You start asking all these questions. What I love so much about the character is that she wasn’t simple and there was not just one main objective. There’s so much going on with her. She’s incredibly complex and as an actor, that complexity is just a gift. To be given that character and see where you can go with it.
It occurred to me that perhaps she was arrested in her development as a human being, when the event happened, because she doesn’t seem to relate to other people in the way that an adult would. It’s just something that kind of came out to me during the last time I watched the film. I don’t know if you would agree with that.
Algar: Yeah, I would. I think that there’s 100% that in the character and she’s almost afraid to engage with someone else for fear of losing them. I think that there’s that idea that if I get too close to someone, am I going to get hurt? Yeah, there’s definitely all of those ingredients.
There’s obviously a large psychological component and a very complex character structure in CENSOR, but there’s also humor as well and gore for the gorehounds in horror which is great. You reference a lot of films like Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer and Nightmares In A Damaged Brain, which you know is fantastic. I wanted to ask you about that. Obviously, there are very intense psychological parts of the film, but there’s also a sense of humor in it as well. How did you balance that out?
Bailey-Bond: I think that for me when I thought of the film censors working through this period, I find it quite funny. All of these really smart, well-educated people sitting around debating and analyzing the exploding heads, The Driller Killer, and all these fun, gory films. I found that really amusing. So it’s that juxtaposition of taking something that we all watch as entertainment and that is quite silly and wild, even though many of these films obviously did have something to say and maybe a political edge, having these people take them so seriously always made me laugh.
I think my sense of humor is so dry, maybe people don’t always pop to it, but I think horror and humor go well together and it’s nice not to take everything too seriously. There’s humor in life and humor in the absurdity of life. I think that’s something that I always like to show on screen as well.
This is related to my question for Prano but Niamh, as an actor, was it difficult to keep a straight face while all of the inherent humor was playing out in front of you?
Algar: In any scene that Michael Smiley was in, I was biting the inside of my lip to keep from laughing. He’s the funniest. Before and after a take, he was just ad-libbing in character and a lot of it made the cut. Also, Vincent Franklin and Clare Holman play my parents in the film and they are incredibly funny. During all of the family scenes, we were cracking up before and working with all the dark trauma while we’re in the scene and I think that’s a natural thing that we do as human beings. That one thing that we do when we could take it way too seriously, we latch onto anything that could make us feel better. It was such an enjoyable shoot, but as Prano said, it is peppered with comedy. I mean, these are the strangest bunch of people who have all worked together in one building. I have to describe them as the MI5 of the film industry. We’re all like detectives trying to solve the world’s problems, but for them, that’s what the censorship office is. It’s the most important place.
Bailey-Bond: I have to also say that Niamh is really funny. We’ve got a lot of BTS of Niamh absolutely cracking me up. It was a lot of fun filming the car scenes because there was loads of traffic coming the other way and Niamh was there in her nightie screaming, Help! Help, they’re taking me away! It was so nice to be in an environment where you can have a laugh like that on a film set. It’s so tense there because you are having to do a lot to get through the day, so having these moments of light relief is great.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to let us know about?
Bailey-Bond: Well, I’m writing at the moment, so there’s nothing that I can really talk about at the moment, but I am squirreling away at some new things.
Algar: I’m currently in Cape Town at the moment filming the second season of “Raised By Wolves” and I have a new TV show coming out later in the year called “Deceit”.
Do not miss CENSOR, which is already one of my top films of 2021. It is the work of a savagely talented director and writer who has an unerring eye for human nature and a fiercely talented actress with remarkable gifts. CENSOR is a work of art about the importance of art to the human soul and its true and largely unacknowledged power to heal humanity through catharsis and the exorcism of trauma. It’s also got a perfectly executed 1980’s style decapitation, so you just can’t go wrong. To learn more about my thoughts, check out my review.
CENSOR is now in theaters, and will be available On Demand tomorrow, June 18th.
All images courtesy of Magnet Releasing