By: Kayla Caldwell
First things first: a little info that will help you to understand the film, The British Board of Film Classification, which was established under the 1984 Act, was responsible for both cinema and video releases. This process was huge in the Eighties in the UK, because the more, let’s say, conservative of viewers were repulsed by the “video nasties,” or low-budget horror and exploitation films.
There were separate teams meant to approve for theatrical release and for VHS release. It seems our leading lady Enid Baines (Niamh Algar) works for that agency. She takes her job damn seriously, and as the film begins, we see her reject one of these “video nasty” pictures because, “the eye gouging is too realistic.”
Her coworkers think she’s a bit uptight, but, as Enid says, “We can’t afford to make mistakes. I just want to get it right.” It seems a bit intense for a position that screens straight-to-vhs horror films that are so unrealistically gory one would think anyone of sound mind wouldn’t take them seriously.
As is often the case, we go on to learn that Enid has more serious things going on in her life than debating how realistic an eye-gouging is. First, we see her chase after a woman in a dark alley, thinking it is someone she knew. Then, we see her home life consists of a lonely apartment with the news blasting in the background, and crossword puzzles for relaxation. Then, while out to dinner with her parents, Enid seems tense. She gets worked up over a death certificate, while her parents mindlessly chatter about how the restaurant's supposed to be good because their friends recommended it.
Turns out the death certificate is for Enid’s sister, Nina (Amelie Child-Villiers). She went missing September 5, 1965, and now that two decades have gone by, her parents want to let go. They have come to terms with the fact that Enid - who must have been with her sister when she went missing - cannot remember anything from the day. “We’re not blaming you,” they say, and even though it seems sincere, it also just feels like a reminder that her parents at one point did blame her, or at least questioned why she couldn't remember anything.
Enid, however, is not ready to let go. Since she cannot remember what happened the day Nina went missing, she probably wants to make up for that by somehow solving the missing persons case. But it’s not healthy to put that kind of pressure on yourself. When Enid’s mom asks if she’s seen anything she’d recommend, that’s the last straw. “It’s not entertainment, mom. I do it to protect people,” she snaps. Clearly this family has a lot of unresolved tension regarding whatever happened to Enid’s sister, and whether or not all of this is Enid’s fault.
Speaking of unresolved issues, one of my favorite lines in the film comes from Enid’s coworker asking what is wrong with these video nasty directors, to which she quips, “male inadequacy revenge catharsis.” And then sh*t hits the fan.
We find out that Enid and her coworker passed a movie by Marino called Deranged, which features a scene in which a man eats another man’s face. Now the censors are all in trouble, because a man - who the press have dubbed the “Amnesiac killer” - has murdered his wife, and then eaten her face.
Reporters quickly link the killings to Deranged, directing the community’s vitriol to the censors, Enid in particular. She gets pestered by the press, and by trolls who repeatedly call her home to scold her for passing the film. As if that weren’t bad enough, flashbacks show how difficult life has been for Enid since her sister disappeared. She cannot remember anything, and that amnesia - not unlike that of the killer - is driving her insane. She cannot stop thinking of her sister, and even begins seeing her everywhere, whether it be on the way back from the Tube or in one of the video nasties she’s screening.
Her ignorant coworkers don’t seem to know the ever-present stress and trauma in Enid’s life, and we see them mocking her in the break room. It seems like her coworker is trying to blame the whole ordeal with the Amnesiac Killer on her, despite the fact that everyone knows she’s the more strict of the two.
As Enid works late one night, she comes into contact with one of the major producers of video nasties, Doug Smart (Michael Smiley). He jokes that if she ever grows bored of “banning my movies” he would be happy to get her a job on the big screen. When she dismissively says, “I’m not sure how much I like the idea of being raped and cut into pieces on camera,” he quickly responds, “No, but I’m sure the public would love it.” I’m afraid Enid is more than acutely aware of how the public currently feels about her, without that slime ball’s help.
After their interaction, Enid watches his latest film, Don’t Go in the Church, and the plot, which features two young girls playing in the woods, seems to trigger the fuzzy memory of her sister’s disappearance. It is clear, here, if it wasn’t before, that Enid is not okay. This is where I’ll make my own biased plug that everyone should get therapy because even if you don’t think you need it, you really do. But this is definitely the case with Enid.
She starts having nightmares due to anxiety and memory loss regarding her sister’s disappearance. She dreams her mom yells at her, “It’s all your fault.” CENSOR is very self-aware, and often hints at Enid’s crumbling mental state as the film goes on. It’s also interesting because, of course censors are real. People really screen twisted movies to be sure they’re edited so as not to wreak havoc on the public. However, we don’t often consider the impact watching such material day in and day out would actually have on the censors.
At one point, one of Enid’s coworkers, says, “You’d be surprised what the human brain can edit out when it can’t handle the truth.” He doesn’t know it, but that seems to be exactly what is happening with Enid. Perhaps she doesn’t want to remember what really happened that day - doesn’t want to risk finding out that it was her fault that her sister never returned home. Mind you, she was a child herself at the time, so of course it wouldn’t be her fault. But anxiety is a powerful thing and if we let them, our intrusive thoughts can create our reality. And that’s likely why Enid can not only not remember that evening, but also why she begins to see her sister in video nasty actress, Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta). His statement also applies to the Amnesiac Killer himself, drawing attention to another area of trauma likely impacting Enid’s state of mind.
Another coworker teases Enid at one point by saying, “someone’s losing the plot,” not knowing how accurate that really is. The document from her parents, closing the case on her missing sister forever, seemed to have been the triggering incident for Enid. It was not that alone, however. She was also dealing with the stress of being in a male-dominated environment where her coworkers do not trust her opinions, to spending most, if not all of her free time alone, as well as the panic of being blamed not only of just doing a poor job, but also at approving a movie that could be responsible for IRL deaths.
There’s a scene in one of the Frederick North films that Enid watches that says, “The evil is contagious.” That’s clearly what Enid believes, as she is so determined that no dangerous films make their way to the public. Of course, in the end we find out that the Amnesiac Killer hadn’t even seen the movie Deranged, so it couldn’t have been her fault. Perhaps that’s another message in and of itself.
The rest of the movie really demands to be experienced yourself, so I won’t spoil it, except to say that the ending tellingly looked exactly like the cover for The Day the World Began, which is the film Enid pretended to be interested in at the video store, before she was brave enough to ask the cashier for a hidden Frederick North film.
CENSOR is a ride of a film, directed by a woman (Prano Bailey-Bond), and depicting the very real trauma of another woman, played by Algar. It’s a troubling look at unresolved trauma, and how it can not only manifest itself in strange ways if we don’t take care of it, but also (as John Green would say), that pain demands to be felt. You can’t bury and ignore and think that it will just go away.
CENSOR hits theaters on June 11, and on demand June 18.