Censor review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The term Video Nasty should be familiar to any horror fans who lived through the 1980s or have boned up on their history. It was a time when anything violent, gory, and grotesque with rape and sex was subject to censorship. As a result of this level of censorship, many filmmakers attempted to go around censorship boards by going straight to home video. Censor is a film that attempts to find some darker and cerebral story centered around the quelling of violence and the draining and flawed nature of such art subjugation. For the most part, it works.
The film follows film censor Enid and her daily duties of observing graphic horror films that need to be decided on as either fit or unfit for audiences. She serves on a board who constantly bickers about how much blood is too much and how long a rape scene can proceed for. Enid is not exactly an apt candidate for this job considering she’s struggling with her own dark past. The disappearance of her sister has made Enid a wreck of a woman who struggles to connect with her parents and finds her subconscious slipping into darker territory.
One day, she comes across a movie that looks familiar. Coming from a mysterious and rather slimy director, the horror picture presented bears a strong resemblance to Enid’s past. She starts seeing shades of her sister and maybe even clues to how she lost her sibling. Curious, Enid digs deeper into figuring out more about this film. Her journey sends her down a rabbit hole where she ventures to video stores with secret stashes of banned VHS tapes and movie sets where the violence is questionable for its realism.
Niamh Algar does a great job playing Enid as a woman of conflicted morals and ethics on violence and herself. She likes to think of herself as doing some good in the world, almost as if she’s trying to save the world from experiencing the same sadness that she endured. I enjoyed how cerebral the character becomes where she finds herself unable to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, having spent her days drowned in movies of torture. There’s something to be said of how much say a censor has over what is produced and how it affects them more than anyone else. I started recalling interviews from the 1960s with Mary Avara, the woman who oversaw every film that came into her community that she deemed worthy of public consumption. It’s too much power for one woman or even a board.
The film never digs this deep into the material because, truthfully, there may not be much there to explore for a whole feature film. It instead focuses more on Enid’s surreal adventure of finding the truth amid grizzly violence and mysterious VHS tapes. There’s some pleasing moments in this dark tale that look so damn good. I particularly dug Enid’s trip to the video store where she uses her censorship knowledge to convince the clerk to rent her out the contraband. The videos presented to Enid feel very believable as low-budget and highly-violent horror pictures which spend a lot of time on money shots of sex and gore. There’s also a kernal of cruel truth to how a scummy director tries to convince Enid to be in one of his films as a means of both revenge and dark fascination.
Censor has its hills and valleys but mostly works as it keeps tumbling down a deeper and cerebral hole of trippy VHS terrors. There’s no shortage of 1980s retro chic horror and Censor thankfully stands out from most of the pack. It doesn’t touch on a whole lot more than reflections on violence and how it affects those who believe they are disaffected. Really, though, it feels more like a stylish waxing than any greater observation on this fascinating topic.