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Censorship is the bane of artists, however it’s likewise a grudging compliment– because being a devoted censor requires believing that art has power. That belief is the dark heart of Censor, a scary film about the scary film world’s most infamous moral panic.

Censor, which premieres at the Sundance Movie Celebration this week, is the function launching from Welsh director Prano Bailey-Bond. It’s embeded in 1980 s Britain during the height of the “video nasties” debate, which saw dozens of films– some from now-iconic names like Dario Argento and David Cronenberg, others from directors who were quickly forgotten– banned or otherwise censured for their brutal violence and sex.

Enid (Niamh Algar) is a screener at Britain’s film category board, a little team standing in between upstanding citizens and mind-corrupting schlock. She treats her job with tired resignation, apparently unmoved by continuous simulated gore and the periodic leering manufacturer. A film she authorized allegedly inspires a murder, sparking a firestorm in the press. An enigmatic slasher movie restores memories of her long-lost sister, whose disappearance has haunted Enid and her moms and dads for several years. Her life begins to unravel.

Censor acknowledges the nearly inherent funniness of movie content scores– the process of dryly poring over trashy exploitation and advising arbitrary cuts to dismemberment and evisceration scenes, attempting to figure out exactly how much face-eating is aesthetically defensible in a work of art. While the genuine “video nasties” list included gems like Argento’s Suspiria and Cronenberg’s Scanners, Censor is more concerned with its deluge of tawdry, no-budget jobs that traded on pure shock.

But Censor is far more eerie than campy.

With the video nasties panic long over, it’s much easier to have sympathy for the censor, a figure that was long derided as a ruthless prude or funny scold. The movie checks out a scarier idea: cinematic sin-eaters like Enid see a blurred limit between reality and fiction, and under the wrong circumstances, they can misplace those lines completely. The longer Censor runs, the harder it gets to compare its actual story and its fictitious movies within the film.

That these movies look sort of bad only makes Censor more effective. A lot of horror checks out the facility that motion pictures drive people to madness, like John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns or the 2018 mockumentary Antrum Here, there’s nothing especially special about the video nasties– however the audience imbues them with power simply the very same.

It’s the kid who constantly rewinds and replays a fleeting moment of gore, or the criminal inspired by simple assumptions about what’s in a film, or the tabloid that spins those presumptions into a scandal. Due to the fact that in Censor, art only provides individuals permission to leave reality behind.


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