Niamh Algar plays Enid, a British film censor slogging her way through a fictionalised version of the video nasty furore whipped up in the 1980s (and again in the 1990s) by the nation's tabloid newspapers. Prano Bailey-Bond's Censor specifically takes place at the point where all video releases required certification, skipping over the wild west days when there was a very real possibility that a corner shop's cassette selection could contain something contextually transgressive, such as a complete copy of a film that had previously been either edited for, or outright barred from, UK cinema distribution. The red top outrage that throbs concurrent to the film's events is therefore a well-worn conceit rather than a brand new reaction - an attention grabber, deployed to distract the British public from the real-life violence that the state was then visiting on striking coal miners.
Writer-director Bailey-Bond and co-writer Anthony Fletcher carefully layer Censor with this bleating, storm in a teacup, hypocrisy - the feigned, and still-rolling, idea that newspapers owned and operated by tax allergic billionaires are willing, or even able, to present their readers with a moral high ground. By avoiding the first wave of nasty pushback Bailey-Bond and Fletcher make the films under examination distinct from the obscenity concerns that swirled around the special effects seen in Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust or the tasteless marketing of Michael Findlay, Horacio Fredriksson and Simon Nuchtern's Snuff. It isn't the foreignness of a low budget Italian slasher or a work of Times Square era grindhouse that spins Algar's hardened snipper out, it's a home grown horror - a British film - that activates uncomfortable, perhaps even self-censored, memories.
Enid fixates on Don't Go in the Church, a back catalogue work by Frederick North, presumably passed, without complaint, at some point for cinema exhibition. The bits and pieces we see of the film are tame, even by the standards of the period depicted within Censor. Visiting producer Doug Smart is even cheeky enough to seek a 15 certificate for the home video release. When viewing Church, Enid is reminded of her childhood, specifically an incident in which her and her sister Nina went for a walk in the woods, against their parent's permission. Nina disappears, leaving Enid to be chastised and screamed at by her mother. Enid's reaction to Church ranges from discomfort to outright alarm, particularly when one of the screen sisters murders the other. Enid puts aside this disconnect with her lived - or rather remembered - experience and goes about trying to locate her missing sister, who she now believes might be an actress working for North.
At work Enid is methodical, turning over objectionable sequences, looking for ways to lessen their intended impact. As Censor goes on we learn that this meticulous but bowdlerised approach to trauma extends out into Enid's personal life as well. Interactions are trimmed and edited until Enid is able to pass through them unscathed. An awkward moment when a colleague summons up the courage to ask her out for a drink is glossed over, Enid addressing some of his chatter but, crucially, not the invitation for a personal connection. Eventually, these tweaks multiply out of control. Conversational elides prickle into an idea of conspiracy, a notion that Enid's parents know something about their daughter that she herself is unwilling to confront. This disquiet grows into instantaneous breaks with painful reality, Enid constructing a completely new - and untroubling - sequence of events the moment her present becomes unpalatable. The further into Enid's psychosis we go, the more of the film is given over to a version of events that exists solely in a mind seeking a familiar structure. At this point Bailey-Bond and cinematographer Annika Summerson collapse the width of the frame, readjusting the film's landscape to fit the pan and scan dimensions imposed on early VHS, allowing Enid to cure Britain of its social ills and correct her sister's fate.