'Censor' blurs the line between VHS horror and reality

The British horror flick dives into the era of 'video nasties'

Brad Keefe
"Censor"

One of the genre standouts of the 2021 Sundance Film Film festival arrives at the Gateway Film Center today (Friday, June 11), and it’s a moody and macabre homage to the age of VHS.

The British horror flick “Censor” dives into the era of “video nasties,” the name for the extreme gore flicks that pushed beyond the societal standards of theatrical releases. Public outrage over the implied link between these movies and real-life violence led to a crackdown and an illegal marketplace.

This is the world of Enid Baines (Niamh Algar), a meek film censor whose job involves watching the most extreme video nasties to decide what is and is not acceptable for the public. In her male-dominated workplace, Enid takes a methodical and clinical approach as she jots notes about scenes of extreme violence all day long.

Enid also bears a trauma in her past. The decades-old disappearance of her sister has remained unresolved. In a dinner with her parents, they implore her to accept her sister’s probable death and move on.

But Enid is unable to do so when a particularly difficult video involving a young girl’s murder leaves her convinced that it’s her long-lost sister on the screen.

In her first feature film, director Prano Bailey-Bond pays homage to this era of horror in a moody and macabre 90 minutes. An opening montage features a barrage of numbing gore (most of which has been compiled from actual video nasties) that sets up Enid’s headspace. What does watching this material all day do to one’s mind?

Algar’s performance depicts a slow slide into madness as Enid’s own investigation takes a decidedly dark turn, toeing the line of fantasy inspiring real violence. Enid becomes a national pariah after a case of a nasty-inspired murder leads to public outrage at the failure of the censors.

Bailey-Bond grew up with video nasties, and she reflects on the public panic over them before a shocking third act.

“Censor” is a low-budget ode to low-budget movies, but there’s great craftsmanship in its VHS aesthetic and some haunting cinematography. It feels solidly like a throwback to the straight-to-VHS era, but also would be best enjoyed in a dark theater. It’s more than just gore, but this brand of artful horror will scratch a big itch for fans of the genre.

“Censor”

Now playing at the Gateway Film Center

4 stars out of 5