Review: ‘Censor’ (2021), starring Niamh Algar

June 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Niamh Algar in “Censor” (Photo by Maria Lax/Magnet Releasing)

“Censor” (2021)

Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond

Culture Representation: Taking place in early 1980s England, the horror film “Censor” features a predominantly white cast (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who works as a movie censor begins experiencing nightmarish visions related to a tragedy from her past. 

Culture Audience: “Censor” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in horror films that put more emphasis on creating unsettling atmospheres than providing easy answers.

Niamh Algar in “Censor” (Photo by Maria Lax/Magnet Releasing)

“Censor” is the type of horror movie that won’t satisfy people who are looking for a predictable ending, but it succeeds in immersing viewers into the psychological terror of a very disturbed mind. The movie has plenty of gory and bloody murder scenes, but what many viewers might find more frightening is being taken into a world where fact and fantasy are constantly blurred and play tricks on people’s sense of reality. Niamh Algar’s riveting performance in “Censor” elevates the movie’s tendency to be repetitive, which could have dragged down the story if not for Algar’s commendable acting.

Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, “Censor” is her feature-film directorial debut, based on Bailey-Bond’s short film “Nasty.” Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher co-wrote the screenplay for “Censor,” which takes place in early 1980s England, when the VHS video boom caused an increase in direct-to-video releases that could bypass the censors. Horror movies in particular benefited from the direct-to-video business model. And in England, these uncensored films became known as “video nasties.”

“Censor” takes place during a time when the British Board of Film Censors (which changed its name to the British Board of Film Classification in 1984) was adapting to the increasing distribution of videotapes sold directly to consumers as a new format for the movie industry. The BBFC, which is a non-governmental group founded by the film industry, works in a way that’s similar to the Motion Picture Association of America, by classifying or rating films, based on the minimum age that would be deemed appropriate to see those films.

In “Censor,” Algar portrays Enid Baines, a prim and proper spinster in her 30s who works for the BBFC. She takes her job very seriously and is a stickler for details. In an opening scene of the “Censor,” she has a conversation with her condescending co-worker Sanderson (played by Nicholas Burns) about a scene they watched in a horror movie that’s being evaluated for a rating classification.

Enid says to Sanderson, “The decapitation is ridiculous. It’s the eye gouging. It’s too realistic. Plus, I was trying to see who dragged her away.” Sanderson replies, “Does it matter? … I appreciate you analyzing this with clear precision, Enid. But someone perhaps got out of the cautious side of the bed this morning.”

Enid ignores Sanderson’s attempt to belittle her as uptight. Fortunately, not all of her co-workers are disrespectful. Enid also works closely with matronly Anne (played by Clare Perkins) and easygoing Perkins (played by Danny Lee Wynter), who both express concerns to Enid about her emotional well-being if it looks like she’s particularly disturbed by any of the violent content that she has to screen for her job. Enid experiences sexual harassment from a movie producer named Doug Smart (played by Michael Smiley) when he makes rude and sexist comments to her while he visiting in the office.

“Censor” doesn’t really show much of Enid’s home life, because viewers will get the impression that her life revolves around her work. However, there’s a tragedy from Enid’s past that has been haunting her. And a decision that her parents have made about this tragedy seems to set Enid off on a downward spiral of madness.

One day, Enid’s parents June Baines (played by Clare Holman) and George Baines (played by Andrew Havill) invite her to dinner at a restaurant to tell her some important news: They have decided to officially declare their missing daughter Lucy as dead. Lucy, who was Enid’s younger sister, disappeared in the forest of Chorleywood (a village in England), in 1958, when Lucy was 7 years old. Enid was about 12 or 13 at the time, and she was with Lucy on the day that Lucy disappeared. At the time, Lucy and Enid were living with their parents in Brimstead, Middlesex.

Enid has vague and fractured memories of Lucy’s disappearance. Because she could never fully remember what happened when Lucy disappeared, it has added to the tremendous guilt that Enid has felt ever since. Enid disagrees with her parents’ decision to declare that Lucy is dead, because Enid thinks there’s still a possibility that Lucy could still be alive. Enid also thinks that Lucy was kidnapped.

However, Lucy’s death certificate has already been made official. When Enid’s parents show Enid the death certificate, Enid has a hard time looking at it. Enid’s mother June tries to change the subject and asks Enid if she’s recently seen any good movies to recommend. Enid somberly explains to her mother what Enid’s job is: “It’s not entertainment, mum. I do it to protect people.”

The rising numbers of “video nasties” have created a backlash from certain people in the United Kingdom who want to blame these horror movies on an increase in crime. At the time, the U.K. (under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) was experiencing an economic recession and high unemployment, which is often linked to an increase in crime, but people often want to scapegoat violent movies and TV as the reason. Enid is about to experience this backlash firsthand.

One day, Enid and Sanderson are called into the office of their boss Fraser (played by Victor Franklin), who nervously tells them about a phone call that he got that day from a journalist doing a story about a high-profile murder case. A man was recently arrested for murdering his wife, eating her face, and then shooting and killing their two children. This disturbing crime is eerily similar to a scene from a horror movie titled “Derangement,” and the journalist is linking these murders to the movie. And just like in “Derangement,” the murderer claims to have no memory of committing the crime. The media gave him the nickname the Amnesiac Killer.

Fraser is unnerved because somehow, the journalist knew that Enid and Sanderson were the two censors who evaluated “Derangement” before giving it a rating. Fraser demands a complete internal investigation and for Enid and Sanderson to give him a step-by-step analysis to explain why they decided to allow “Derangement” to be approved for release. Fraser also sternly lectures Enid and Sanderson that if they have any doubts about the content that they evaluate, they should not approve it and ask for edits or reject the movie altogether.

While all of this drama is going on in Enid’s job and personal life, she and Perkins watch a movie that’s up for evaluation. It’s an untitled film from a director called Frederick North. And what Enid sees in the movie seems to push her off the deep end into an abyss of emotional despair. What follows for the rest of “Censor” are flashbacks or hallucinations about what might or might not have happened when Enid and Lucy were in the woods all those years ago.

There’s a tall, menacing hulk—who has the name Beastman (played by Guillaume Delaunay) in the film credits—who is shown lurking in the woods and enticing a young Lucy into his remote house. (Beau Gadsdon plays a young Enid in these flashbacks.) There’s a horror movie called “Asunder” that Enid gets from a video store that offers more pieces to this mind-bending puzzle. An actress named Alice Lee (played by Sophia La Porta) is the star of “Asunder,” and Enid becomes obsessed with her because she fears that Alice is in danger.

One of the more effective aspects of “Censor” is how cinematographer Annika Summerson contrasts the dull and drab hues of Enid’s everyday life with the psychedelic nightmarish hues of Enid’s visions that take place in the forest. If it isn’t obvious to viewers during the movie, it’s made very clear at the end of the film that the forest is a metaphor for Enid’s mind. And getting trapped there is an experience that is not for the faint of heart.

Magnet Releasing released “Censor” in select U.S. cinemas on June 11, 2021, and on digital and VOD on June 18, 2021.

Review: ‘Wrath of Man,’ starring Jason Statham

May 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Holt McCallany, Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett and Rocci Williams in “Wrath of Man” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Wrath of Man”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the action flick “Wrath of Man” features a nearly all-male, predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A crime boss goes undercover as an armored truck driver to avenge the murder of his teenage son, who was killed during a heist of an armored truck.

Culture Audience: “Wrath of Man” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a predictable and violent movie with no imagination.

Raúl Castillo, Deobia Oparei, Jeffrey Donovan, Chris Reilly, Laz Alonso and Scott Eastwood in “Wrath of Man” (Photo by Christopher Raphael/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

The fourth time isn’t the charm for director Guy Ritchie and actor Jason Statham in the vapid action flick “Wrath of Man,” their fourth movie together. It’s tedious and predictable junk filled with cringeworthy dialogue and stunts with no creativity. People who are familiar with Statham’s work already know that his movies are almost always schlockfests that are essentially about violence and car chases. However, Ritchie’s filmography is much more of a mixed bag. “Wrath of Man” isn’t Ritchie’s absolute worst film, but it’s a movie that could have been so much better.

Ritchie co-wrote the “Wrath of Man” screenplay with Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson. The movie is based on the 2004 French thriller “Le Convoyeur,” directed by Nicolas Boukhrief and written by Boukhrief and Éric Besnard. Ritchie and Statham previously worked together on 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (Ritchie’s feature-film debut), 2000’s “Snatch” and 2005’s “Revolver.” Whereas those three movies had plenty of sly comedy with brutal action, “Wrath of Man” is so by-the-numbers and soulless, it seems like a computer program, not human beings, could’ve written this movie.

The movie’s simplistic plot could’ve been told in 90 minutes or less. Instead, it’s stretched out into a nearly two-hour slog with repetitive and unnecessary flashbacks. In “Wrath of Man,” which takes place in Los Angeles, Statham plays a mysterious crime boss who’s out to avenge the murder of his son Dougie (played by Eli Brown), who was about 17 or 18 and an innocent bystander when he was shot to death by a robber during a heist of an armored truck.

Dougie’s murder (which is not spoiler information) is shown in a flashback about halfway through the movie. Until then, viewers are left to wonder who Statham’s character really is when he shows up at the headquarters of Fortico Security to apply for a job working as a guard in an armored truck. When he applies for the job, he identifies himself has Patrick Hill, a divorcé with more than 25 years of security experience. Later, viewers find out that it’s an alias; his real last name is Mason.

But he was able to create an entire false identity as Patrick Hill, with documents provided by his trusty assistant Kirsty (played by Lyne Renée), one of the few women with a speaking role in this movie. The false identity includes phony job references and a fake job stint at the now-defunct Orange Delta Security, which was a well-known company. Based on this elaborate scheme, Patrick is easily able to get a job at Fortico.

Fortico is described in the movie as one of the top armored vehicle companies that does cash pickups and deliveries in the area. The company’s clients include retail department stores, marijuana dispensaries, cash vaults, casinos and private banks. On a typical pickup or delivery, there are two or three employees in the truck: a driver, a guard and/or a messenger. The company isn’t huge (it only has 12 trucks), but it’s very profitable. A Fortico truck haul can total around $15 million a day, sometimes more.

Patrick is trained by Hayden Blair (played by Holt McCallany), who goes by the nickname Bullet. Almost everyone Bullet works with directly seems to have a nickname, so he immediately gives Patrick the nickname H, an abbreviation of Hill. Patrick/H goes through the training process (including gun defense skills) and he barely gets passing grades. He’s assigned to work with a cocky driver named David Hancock (played by Josh Hartnett), whose nickname is Boy Sweat Dave. Another colleague is Robert Martin (played by Rocci Williams), whose nickname is Hollow Bob.

When Bullet introduces H to these two co-workers, Bullet says, “He’s H, like the bomb. Or Jesus H.” The bad dialogue doesn’t get any better. H is told that he’s replacing a co-worker named Sticky John (who came up with these cringeworthy nicknames?), who died during a heist that killed multiple employees. The robbers got away, so the Fortico employees on are on edge about this shooting spree, which they call the Gonzo Murders. Boy Sweat Dave says, “We ain’t the predators. We’re the prey.”

The insipid dialogue continues throughout the entire movie. In a scene with some Fortico workers off-duty in a bar, Boy Sweat Dave is playing pool with Dana Curtis (played by Niamh Algar), the token female on Fortico’s armored truck crew. Dana says sarcastically to Boy Sweat Dave: “The point of the game is to get the ball in the hole.” Boy Sweat Dave snaps back, “The point of a woman is to shut the fuck up, Dana.”

Dana replies, “Well, that Ivy League education is really working for you, Boy Sweat.” (How can you say a line like that with a straight face?) Boy Sweat Dave retorts, “Pretty soon, you’ll all be working for me. The power is in this big head here.” Dana snipes back, “Well, it’s definitely not in your little head. Or are you still blaming the beer?”

The character of Boy Sweat Dave is an example of how “Wrath of Man” wastes a potentially interesting character on silly dialogue. What kind of person with an Ivy League education wants to work as an armored truck driver, a job which doesn’t even require a high school education? Viewers never find out because Boy Sweat Dave is one of several characters in the movie who are shallowly introduced, just so there can be more people in the body count later.

And because Dana is H’s only female co-worker, this movie that treats women as tokens can’t let her be just a co-worker. No, she has to serve the purpose of fulfilling H’s sexual needs too, since he and Dana have a predictable fling/one night stand. He finds out something about her when he spends the night at her place that helps him unravel the mystery of who killed his son.

It isn’t long before Patrick/H experiences his first heist as a Fortico employee. He’s partnered with Boy Sweat Dave, who’s driving, while H is the lookout. The heist is unrealistically staged in the movie as one of those battles where one man (in this case, H) can take down several other men in a shootout where a Fortico employee has been taken hostage by the thieves. Post Malone fans (or haters) might get a kick out of the scene though, since he plays one of the nameless robbers who doesn’t last long in this movie. H has saved his co-workers’ lives in this botched heist, so he’s hailed as a hero by the company.

Meanwhile, the FBI has been looking for Patrick because he’s been an elusive crime boss. There are three FBI agents, all very uninteresting, who are on this manhunt: Agent Hubbard (played by Josh Cowdery), Agent Okey (played by Jason Wong) and their supervisor Agent King (played by Andy Garcia). Hubbard and Okey come in contact with Patrick/H, when they investigate the botched robbery where Patrick/H ended up as the hero.

Agent King orders Hibbard and Okey not to let on that they know H’s real identity and to keep tabs on why this crime boss is working at an armored truck company. Eddie Marsan, a very talented actor, has a very useless role in “Wrath of Man,” as an office assistant named Terry. Terry becomes suspicious of who H really is, because in his heroic rescue, H showed the type of expert combat skills that contradicts the mediocrity that he displayed in the company’s training.

And just who’s in this group of murderous thieves? They’re led by mastermind Jackson (played by Jeffrey Donovan), a married man with two kids who lives a double life. This seemingly mild-mannered family man works in a shopping mall. But he also apparently has time to lead a group of armored truck thieves, who pose as street construction workers when they commit their robberies. The robbers use a concrete mixer truck to block the armored truck and then ambush the people inside the armored truck.

What’s really dumb about “Wrath of Man” is that these armed robbers use the same tactic every time. In real life, repeating this very cumbersome way of committing an armed robbery would make them easier to catch, not harder. Apparently, these dimwits think that the best way to not call attention to yourself during a robbery is to haul out a giant concrete mixer truck.

Jackson’s crew consists of a bunch of mostly generic meatheads: Brad (played by Deobia Oparei), Sam (played by Raúl Castillo), Tom (played by Chris Reilly) and Carlos (played by Laz Alonzo), with Jan (played by Scott Eastwood) as the loose cannon in the group. Guess who pulled the trigger on Patrick/H/Mason’s son Dougie? Guess who’s going to have a big showdown at the end of the movie?

Of course, a crime boss has to have his own set of goons. Patrick/H/Mason has three thugs who are closest to him and who do a lot of his dirty work: Mike (played by Darrell D’Silva), Brendan (played by Cameron Jack) and Moggy (played by Babs Olusanmokun). There’s a vile part of the movie that shows Patrick/H/Mason ordering his henchman to beat up and torture anyone who might have information on who murdered Dougie. The operative word here is “might,” because some people who had nothing to do with the murder are brutally assaulted.

Mike has a conscience and he says that he won’t commit these vicious attacks anymore to try to find Dougie’s killer. Mike advises Patrick/H/Mason to think of another way to find the murderer. And that’s when Patrick/H/Mason got the idea to go “undercover” at Fortico, with the hope that he could catch the murderous thieves in their next heist on a Fortico truck.

And what do you know, this gang of thieves will be doing “one last heist” on a Fortico truck, to get a haul that’s said to be at least $150 million. What could possibly go wrong? You know, of course.

Ritchie’s previous film “The Gentlemen” (which was also about gangsters and theives) had a lot of devilishly clever dialogue and crackled with the type of robust energy that hasn’t been seen in his movies in years. And although “The Gentlemen” wasn’t a perfect film about criminal antics, it at least made the effort to have memorable characters and to keep viewers guessing about which character was going to come out on top. “Wrath of Man” is a completely lazy film that has no interesting characters, no suspense, and not even any eye-popping stunts. It’s just a silly shoot ’em up flick that’s as empty as Statham’s dead-eyed stares.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Pictures and Miramax Films will release “Wrath of Man” in U.S. cinemas on May 7, 2021.

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