Paired at the Seattle International Film Festival with Nasty, the short film that inspired it, Censor brings a grainy ode to horror excellence to the virtual fest. Set in grimy 1980’s Britain, it documents the mental unraveling of a feisty film censor, Enid (Niamh Algar). Video nasties, Britain’s censorship answer to the panic around VHS violence relative to murder, play a key role. Enid’s sister, who has been missing since 1965, is legally declared dead. Enid takes pride in her work editing out the nastiest content from all the movies she assesses, but something comes across her desk that brings a past trauma charging back to prominence. The tease of possible answers to her sister’s disappearance drives Enid toward a dangerous endgame. It bears some similarities to SXSW’s Broadcast Signal Intrusion, in that it focuses on a VHS-based mystery element and lead characters who are willing to reach into the depths of darkness to solve these mysteries.
Crazy bursts of violence make Censor feel like a film that would’ve certainly been a video nasty in their heyday. When the VHS boom was just starting to happen, the media and society were quick to turn on horror films. Anything that could be rewound and watched over and over again could be studied, and in effect, damaging to the viewer on a moral level. People would have a blueprint to commit sadistic crimes, critics argued. “Video nasties” were 72 banned films in Britain, which included well-known fare like The Burning, Cannibal Holocaust, and The Last House on the Left. It is obvious that writer/director Prano Bailey-Bond has a love for this time period and this genre and a passion for the material.
Bursts of gore, phenomenal acting from Niamh Algar, and light commentary on censorship and media-inspired violence easily make Censor a must-see. Watching Nasty back-to-back, I love seeing what Bailey-Bond carried over thematically from the eerie short. Constant references to amazing films of the horror heyday pepper Censor with authenticity and a meta subtext. It plays with editing and aspect ratios to stunning effect, always keeping the viewer on their toes. It all builds to a climax of vibrant brutality, the scalding mark of an unforgettable and intense horror experience.
Censor screened at the Seattle International Film Festival, April 8th – April 18th, 2021. It comes to theaters on Friday, June 11th.