In CENSOR, Enid (Niamh Algar), a film censor, takes pride in her meticulous work, guarding unsuspecting audiences against the deleterious effects of watching the gore-filled decapitations and eye-gouging she pores over. Her sense of duty to protect is amplified by guilt over her inability to recall details of the long-ago disappearance of her sister, recently declared dead in absentia. When Enid is assigned to review a disturbing film from the archive that echoes her hazy childhood memories, she begins to unravel how this eerie work might be tied to her past.
For the DVD and On-Demand release of CENSOR, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon Mcgrew chatted with Writer/Director Prano Bailey-Bond, where they discussed everything from the genesis of the project to dissecting the layers of Enid, and how changing the gender of the film censor lent itself to adding more complexity to the role.
Hello Prano! Thank you so much for speaking with me today. To start things off, can we talk a bit about how the genesis of the project? Was CENSOR inspired by your previous short, Nasty?
Prano Bailey-Bond: The original idea for CENSOR came before Nasty. So, the recent CENSOR-inspired Nasty but then making Nasty sort of inspired CENSOR back. It was sort of everybody sharing inspiration across those projects.
Oh, that’s really interesting! What made you decide that now was the time to make CENSOR into a full feature?
Prano Bailey-Bond: I always imagined CENSOR being a feature film. I kind of really wanted to tell the story of a film censor and that was what drew me to the video nasty era. When I was looking at the history of censorship in the UK, that is the period, basically, to go to because of the moral hysteria, the moral panic that happened around these films. It’s really interesting. And particularly what was going on politically at that time and in society and then how that relates to sort of scapegoating horror films for all the bad things that happen in the world. It’s such a totally fascinating period. So I was researching that and then I thought, “oh, it’d be really interesting to make a short film about a little boy during this period.” A lot of the concern around video nasties and around VHS horror was that kids would be able to get their hands on these films and what was it going to do to the children and were we spawning the next generation of murders and psychopaths, so I really wanted to explore a short film that looked at that. But then, elements of that kind of informed CENSOR, but CENSOR was always a feature in my head.
One of my favorite aspects of the film centers around the theme of mental illness. There’s a scene where we see Enid is picking at the skin around her nails. That’s something I do when I’m very anxious and I loved that you showed the simplicity of that. Can you talk about building up those smaller moments of anxiety in regards to the larger picture?
Prano Bailey-Bond: It’s funny because I think we all have a tick, don’t we? That we do when…I know for me, there’ve been things at different times when I’ve been stressed and been like, “Oh my God, why do I do that?” Like, you know, you scratch a certain part of your body or you put your fingers in your ears or whatever, there are weird things that we do. And when I was writing the film with my co-writer, Anthony Fletcher, I remember thinking, “oh, we need a little detail.” I had been watching We Need To Talk About Kevin and I remember thinking that there was a little detail Tilda Swinton did. I can’t even remember what it was now, but I thought, “oh, I want a [detail].” And then, when I and Niamh started working together we basically, before we shot the film, we had a few months where we were skyping probably every weekend talking about Enid because Niamh was working over in Cape Town shooting Raised By Wolves. And so, we were just talking about the character, going through the script, talking about her backstory and things. And I remember her sending me a video of herself, like digging her nail into her thumb and just being like, “I think Enid does this.” I had described Enid to her like an onion with loads of layers that she’s built up around herself to hide the fact that deep down she thinks she’s rotten and she’s a bad person. So, Niamh was thinking Enid’s basically like scraping back a layer almost. And so I thought, “Oh my God, that’s brilliant. That’s exactly what I was looking for.” [T]hen I wrote that into the script and spoke to my makeup artist about how we could develop it so that she’s self-harming ultimately, and in many ways, psychologically. But, in that case, she’s literally scratching herself away and it’s such a small little thing, but it’s so horrible because of that. I think sometimes the tiny little things can be worse than the big things.
I’m a big fan of the ending and will try my best not to spoil it (if you are concerned about possible spoilers then it’s better to be safe than sorry and to not continue reading). I loved that it was left open for the viewer’s interpretation. Was that always the idea to leave the viewer thinking, is this reality or is this just in her head? And were you worried that people may not like that?
Prano Bailey-Bond: Yeah. I remember it coming up during the script development process. I remember the execs saying, “You know, people might not like the fact that you don’t tie everything up in a little bow and some of the backstories aren’t concluded necessarily.” And like you say, there are elements of when we’re in the head of an unreliable narrator, my thing was that I always wanted it to be from Enid’s perspective. [T]hat is the horror because you’re in the perspective of somebody dealing with ambiguous loss. And so, when I explained that to the execs, I remember them being really on board with that. And even when we had a test screening and a few people had said, “I want to know more dot, dot, dot,” the [execs] said, ‘We’re not going to make you do that because we know that that’s not the film that you want to make.’ And that’s amazing to have execs who are not trying to force you into something, but they’re also probing you and asking you the questions to make sure that you know why you’re doing that. But I was never going to give away more than what Enid knows.
When I think of the ’80s era of horror, I’m used to seeing the protagonist as a male character with any women characters pigeonholed as the victim. What was the decision behind subverting that trope and focusing the story on Enid as opposed to a male actor?
Prano Bailey-Bond: At first, it was a male character in my head. I was thinking about the specific thing that brought me into wanting to make a film about a film censor. I was reading about how in the Hammer Horror era, they would always cut the sight of blood on the breast of a woman because they believed it would make men likely to commit rape. And I was like, “Oh, imagine if you had a male censor who went on a date and someone spills cherry jam down their top and they’re like, “Oh God, maybe I’m going to do something terrible.” So, it started out quite silly, and then I guess I got deeper and deeper into what I really was talking about and also thinking about my own relationship with horror. And I felt like one, it’s less obvious to have a woman in this role, which to me makes it more interesting, but also there’s a different tension watching a woman watch these films to watching a man watching these films, particularly when it comes to the sexual violence aspect, but even just the violence itself.
I also wanted to explore a female character that wasn’t the victim running through the woods. It’s a trope and I wanted to take that trope and sort of flip it on its head and I felt like, through this character of a film censor, I was able to do that. And also, I guess there’s something about a woman character when you’re talking about the theme of responsibility and blame. I think that women can really take responsibility for everything and that made sense to me as a woman. Maybe a man would say that’s the same for men, but I know from being a woman that you can put everything on your own shoulders and beat yourself up about things, etc. And so, when you’re looking at a character that’s doing that and that’s all part of the thing that’s fueling their action and behavior and that descent, it feels more interesting to me if it’s a female character. So, there were so many reasons, but I think probably in the first instance, it was just that it was less obvious.
CENSOR is now available on DVD and On-Demand from Magnolia Pictures under the Magnet label. The horror-thriller is streaming on Apple TV, DirecTV, Google Play, Prime Video, FandangoNOW, and more. To learn more about the film, check out our review!