We’re just a week or two away from the release of new horror movie A Quiet Place, which stars Emily Blunt and John Krasinski as parents living in quiet isolation to avoid the clutches of monsters who have seemingly wiped out the people around them. It’s a very buzzy movie, but many people were disappointed this week when it was revealed that the film is rated PG-13 in American cinemas, leading to yelps of disapproval from gorehounds worried they would miss out on a fix of violence.
I raised the topic to my Popcorn Muncher Podcast co-hosts, Patrick Wilson and Luke Stevenson, and decided that the chat we had was interesting enough to be pulled together into an article. So what follows is a transcript of our conversation, albeit one that I’ve edited slightly for clarity.
Tom: A Quiet Place got a PG-13 cert in America and it has upset a lot of people. It seems that there’s a commonly held view that horror films have to be limb-lopping, swear-spouting nightmares to be scary.
Luke: Horror doesn’t have to be gory.
Tom: PG-13 just means it’s scary, rather than gory and sweary. It’s absolutely mental if you won’t watch the movie because it’s PG-13, but would’ve done if they’d thrown in a couple of F-words or a blood splatter to get an R.
Luke: I mean, I don’t know how the boards work, but there has to be a certain amount of tolerable dread for a person watching it to say “an eight-year-old can watch this”. It comes down to what you consider adult. If blood and swearing is, but a deep existential dread isn’t, I’m not sure. It puts more responsibility on parents, which I don’t mind really. Just because a movie can be watched by kids doesn’t mean it should, which is a decision for parents to make – not classification boards. Even they seem to make their decisions based on arbitrary measures of swearing, nudity and blood anyway.
Patrick: Ratings have progressively become more lax – especially the BBFC and with stuff like nudity and sex. It’s crazy to think that stuff like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was banned from release. That would have no problem now.
Tom: Tobe Hooper wanted a PG for Texas Chainsaw. There’s almost no gore in it, deliberately. It’s a triumph of tone and suggestion.
Luke: If you cut the swears and a bit of the blood out of Get Out, it could be a 12A. I would still say it’s inappropriate for children though.
Tom: People forget that PG-13, and especially 12A, don’t mean suitable for everyone. The BBFC says the absolute minimum age for a 12A is, in theory, eight years old – and they recommend that parents should exercise severe caution with anyone under 12. There’s a reason they are locked out for anyone under 12 when they hit DVD. It’s really hard to get a 15 just on tone. Because parents should know whether their kid can handle a bit of horror.
Tom: A Quiet Place, incidentally, is a 15 in the UK. I just looked it up. Based on the BBFC insight, there’s a little bit of blood detail, which gets you a 15 in the UK, like the initial cut of The Hunger Games. They don’t care about that in the US, given how violent their whole society seems to be.
Luke: But that creates another problem. You can have a movie where loads of people get brutally murderered but, as long as blood detail is kept down, it will be viewable for kids. Like, at the end of Rogue One, Darth Vader brutally murders a ship full of people but because of no blood it’s fine. I’d argue it’s worse because it suggests that violence has no consequences and desensitises people to the idea of committing it.
Tom: Exactly. That’s the problem with how classification bodies deal with violence. They’ve created a world where you can murder dozens of people in cold blood, as long as they don’t bleed.
Luke: Or they can be aliens/monsters. Batman says “do you bleed” and the BBFC says “God, I hope not”.
Tom: As a finger hovers ominously over the button marked “Fuck Up Their Box Office”.
Tom: People get so pissed off over certificates. I used to be the same. I think it’s an edgy teenager thing.
Luke: Yeah, 18s mean loads to you until you are like 15 and then it doesn’t matter at all. So few films are an 18 in cinemas that I can’t think of the last one I saw. Was it mother?
Tom: Fifty Shades Freed.
Luke: Was it really? That’s a decision for a universe where every person aged 13 and above doesn’t have access to porn.
Tom: Sexualised nudity for anything more than a few seconds is pretty much an 18, especially if there’s an S&M element.
Luke: Fifty Shades is actually really good on consent though. When you consider the amount of ‘struggle kisses‘ and troubling sex that is had in lower rated films. But without nudity.
Tom: Sex positivity doesn’t apply to the BBFC. We’re British, no sex please! I think Fifty Shades has been the only mainstream 18 certificate this year so far. Foreign films get 18s really easily. The Handmaiden, Elle and Raw were all classified at 18 last year. I guess their view is that only adults will see them anyway. For me, people get too hung up on certificates. The boundaries are so porous nowadays that it doesn’t really matter what number a film ends up with. As release methods change, more and more films will be viewed at home anyway, and then certification is impossible to police.
Luke: I haven’t cared about certificates since I was about 14, when most movies I wanted to see were 15s. Since then, it hasn’t really mattered to me. I suppose a certificate does give you an indication as to what the movie contains and what it might be leaving out. The Hunger Games edit, for example, and a movie like that is weaker for not showing the bloody reality. I broadly think that 12A/PG-13 ratings have only really been good for studios looking for box office, as it is a really broad category people can be told to fit their film in. Think of the first two Wolverine movies. You can find films that are soft 12As or hard ones, which don’t really make a lot of sense. It can be limiting, I think, but broadly I think their enforcement is fine and it’s more down to parents than it is any classification body.
Patrick: Ratings are far more lax than they used to be and, with the advent of smash hits like Deadpool and Logan, the industry is far less likely to neuter a product for the sake of a wider audience. It’s true that ratings are an indicator of content and shouldn’t be tied to how the movie is produced but this practice is becoming something of a relic.
Luke: I don’t think that practice is that much of a relic considering Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were both movies made by R-rated directors who clearly wanted to make R-rated movies and were therefore neutered. As a result, those movies aren’t very good and the critical reaction is to blast a tonal mess of a 12A comic book movie. I don’t think an R-rating would have made them necessarily better, but Wonder Woman was clearly made to be a 12A, where those two were definitely not.
Patrick: Your examples were in production during the Deadpool shift. They are products of that old viewpoint. And Suicide Squad had way more factors affecting its end product than rating goals
Luke: Yeah, Suicide Squad is still bad.
Patrick: That should be the last line of the piece, Tom.
Tom: All pieces should end with that line.
Do you think A Quiet Place will be hurt by its PG-13 certificate? Does it matter what classification a movie receives prior to its release? Let me know in the comments section.