Britain, the 1980s. Mary Whitehouse and Margaret Thatcher are barely off the telly, and the media are in a frenzy about video nasties (remember them?) A busy time, then, for people working as film censors. People like Enid.
Enid is never seen without her starched shirt buttoned to the top and her hair put up in a bun. She spends her time at work discussing with her colleagues whether an eye gouging scene is in the tradition of Oedipus Rex, King Lear and Un Chien Andalou. At one point, when she seems a little censorious, one says “Oh, this is Rat Brothel all over again”.
Enid is headed for trouble. She and one of her colleagues approve a film in which a man eats someone’s face. What should happen but in real life, a man – the Amnesiac Killer – kills his wife and eats her face. Although there’s no evidence that he saw the film, the press – who have been tipped off about Enid’s involvement are blaming her. She starts to receive angry calls from outraged members of the public.
As if this is not enough to deal with, Enid’s parents have decided that its finally time to get a death certificate for her sister Nina. Nina disappeared when they both were kids, and Enid can’t remember what happened. But she’s convinced that Nina’s still alive and takes her parents’ decision to give up hope as a betrayal.
Enid gains a memory jog when the plot of one the films she is viewing reminds her of the incident when Nina disappeared. She tried to find more information about the director, but it would take at least a week to generate a list of the films he’s made (that one’s for you, people who don’t remember a time before IMDB). So she looks for her own copy in the sort of shop that can get you under the counter banned films if they trust you.
The actress in the new film looks familiar, and Enid becomes convinced that it’s her sister. Hearing that her final film has been announced, she’s equally convinced that this is a snuff movie and she has to go on set to save her. She is taken for one of the actresses and is given a white dress, a fresh haircut and the axe equivalent of Chekhov’s gun. Stop me if this has gone too batshit crazy for you yet.
As the film progresses, it becomes unclear whether we are observing reality, a film, or a distortion of reality as it appears in Enid’s head that has been addled by seeing one too many films of women being raped and mutilated (not necessary in that order). To say that the plot doesn’t make sense would be to misunderstand what is going on her. Director Prano Bailey-Bond is fucking with us.
After an ending of sorts we are offered a final coda. Enid and her saved sister / actress who looks like her sister / actress who looks nothing like her sister except in Enid’s deranged mind drive into a town looking not unlike the beginning of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, before the kerfuffle with the ear. We hear an announcement telling us that video nasties have been banned and all violence have disappeared from the world. I’m not sure this bit is meant to be serious.
But is it Any Good? I must say that I found some of the jokes hilarious and perfectly timed. And we are drawn into a time – within living memory – where the most sophisticated form of Saturday evening entertainment was renting a video. In this sense, the discussion about video nasties almost feels like a history lesson about less cosmopolitan times.
And Enid’s degeneration into madness is shown in a way that we don’t really notice what’s happening until we’re too far in. After we get far, the film can occasionally get a little frustrating and too weird for it’s own good. It sometimes has a puppyish need to attract our attention. But, especially in the first half, we are taken into Enid’s private hell, with refreshing understatement, and the film is all the better for this lack of show.