The 2021 Sundance Film Festival’s Midnight opener Censor takes viewers beyond the cold, grey world of Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s Britain into the vibrant, violent world of the Video Nasties. As a North American, “Video Nasties” were something I didn’t learn about until well after the British censorship craze has cooled. Heck, in Canada the movies deemed too disturbing for distribution by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) wore that designation like a badge of honor on their video store covers. The fear was that the “graphic depictions of violence” (in what are now some of our most celebrated horror movies) would inspire viewers to mimic these make-believe moments of the macabre in real life. That fear is explored in full Video Nasty glory through Prano Bailey-Bond’s psychological swan dive into insanity.
Co-written with Anthony Fletcher, Bond’s Censor stars Niamh Algar (Raised By Wolves) as Enid Baines, a film censor working for the BBFC at the height of the censorship craze. Enid finds herself in hot water after a madman murders his entire family in what the newspapers have declared a crazed killing inspired by a film she personally approved, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Hidden underneath Enid’s prim, put-together appearance is a bottomless pit of regret and repressed trauma. She’s kept the lip sealed on that well of woe for years but when a new, eerily familiar film comes across Enid‘s desk she is forced to face the darkest recesses of her mind in a search for answers to what really happened the day her little sister disappeared.
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“…bathed in the neon glow of analog era horror.”
Enid is a wonderfully crafted character, brilliantly brought to life by Niamh Algar from Bond & Fletcher’s script. She’s complicated, she’s messy, and she keeps everything bottled up inside. She takes her job incredibly seriously, not afraid to put in the extra hours to cut a film down from dangerous to dim. It’s all in an effort to protect the public but it never occurs to her that these violent horror movies are a safe space where people can explore the darkness that surrounds us all. Enid’s fateful viewing of (fictional film) Don’t Go Into The Church triggers memories she’s spent a lifetime blocking out and from that day she spirals deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole of herself. Unsure whether she’s hot on the trail of her sister’s kidnappers or in the grips of a manic episode, Enid nervously set outs into the world of underground filmmaking, looking for answers now that the magical editing tool she’s been using to censor her own past has finally failed her.
The argument for Video Nasties was that these movies were capital D “dangerous”. Simple as that. But surely if they were actually dangerous, the people most affected should have been the censors themselves. (Side Note: It’s a real bummer that for decades the only Britainers lucky enough to see the uncut versions of The Evil Dead or Tenebre were people who absolutely despised the films) Anyone looking for an excuse to vilify horror further can easily point to Enid and say “Look! She watched a violent movie, and it caused her great psychological damage!” but what they fail to realize is the catharsis horror brings to people struggling to cope with the damage this world has already caused them. The tragedy of Enid is that she never saw past the eye-gouging and face-melting of the Video Nasties, to where the heart of those blood-splattered films was hidden. Horror movies are a church for the troubled mind and Enid could have used a little churching up!
Censor is bathed in the neon glow of analog era horror. Bond’s appreciation for the aesthetic of 80s low-budget horror is on full display from start to finish, stuffed with snippets from recognizable favorites and some of her own creation. It’s a perfect Friday night watch if you’re looking to nerd out over aspect ratio or foley art but their inclusion isn’t purely for scares and giggles. As Enid falls deeper into her psychological break it becomes harder to tell the difference between what’s for real and what’s film reel. Although the finale is as buck wild and bloody as I wanted it to be, I still felt rushed out the door. I wanted to spend more time in Enid’s head, untieing the knots she had worked into the thread of her life. We follow Enid closely, seeing her world through her eyes but her story lacks that patented catharsis. On the other hand, it does feel surprisingly appropriate that I’m left wanting more after devouring a story about someone that made it her job to cut out the bits she felt were too gory or too alarming for anyone but her to see.
Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor celebrated it’s World Premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Click HERE to follow our full coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know what your favorite video nasties were over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.