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“Censor” is One of the Year’s Best Horror Films (Review)

The increased availability and lowered prices to purchase VCRs fueled the home entertainment industry in the 1980s. People all over the world were able to easily watch movies from the comfort of home and boy, did they ever.

It wasn’t just the major Hollywood studios who benefited from the video store craze. Many independent film producers and distributors were able to exploit their catalogs and initially release them on formats like VHS, Beta, and laserdisc.

Once the floodgates of videotape rentals opened, viewers couldn’t get enough of horror films. The genre, often ignored or disrespected by the major studios, had great success and some releases, especially straight-to-video titles, pushed the boundaries of gore and violence.

Some films were so controversial that they became known in the United Kingdom as “Video Nasties.” Home video releases were not initially rated in England, which led to hysteria in the press about some of the more extreme titles that children were able to more easily access than ever before.

That brings us to “Censor.” Niamh Algar gives a supremely intense performance as Enid Baines, a young woman working as a film censor at the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) once these so-called “nasty” titles were required to be submitted for video ratings.

Enid is a stickler for the rules and becomes obsessed with watching certain segments of films over and over again to determine what portions must be excised to become acceptable for release.

We soon learn that Enid had a sister who disappeared and was possibly kidnapped when they were young and the constant exposure of this extreme content begins to wear on her mental health.

Things go from bad to worse after a real-life murder occurs that is allegedly inspired by a graphic sequence in a film that Enid had passed to be released. To top it all off, Enid becomes convinced that an actress she sees in an exploitation film is actually her missing sister and she becomes obsessed with the idea of tracking her down to rescue her.

Welsh director Prano Bailey-Bond casts a fine-tuned sense of dread over the entirety of her debut feature. Algar can convey a surprising amount of emotion with just a simple look and is incredibly compelling in a very difficult role.

Swedish cinematographer Annika Summerson effortlessly combines 35mm film stock with Super 8 and VHS footage to reference the time period. The visuals are accented by a sincerely spooky and evocative score that composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch has called a “love letter to classic Carpenter and Goblin soundtracks.”

If you’re looking for something original, bloody, and psychologically dark for your Halloween viewing, add this one to your queues this weekend. “Censor” is, quite simply, one of 2021’s best horror films.

“Censor” is streaming now on Hulu and is available to rent or buy from all digital providers. A special edition Blu-ray is coming later this year from Vinegar Syndrome.