I was in Birmingham for a conference this week and saw two films there alone, thus making v.g. use of my Odeon Limitless card!
Having seen those two films (The Shallows, Lights Out), I’ve now seen four movies (those two and Nerve and Suicide Squad), all released fairly recently, that got rated a PG-13 by the MPAA and, rather than get the rating that is roughly equivalent over here, the 12A (which about 90% of US PG-13s get), they were slapped with the older sister rating, the 15.
I thought I’d be super-nerdy and discuss my thoughts on the BBFC’s decision to rate them 15, rather than the actual quality of films themselves.
Lights Out: 15 for strong supernatural threat, bloody images.
My verdict: 15.
Far from being one of the scariest 15s I’ve seen, but there were a lot of jump moments, some funny, but some very intense which would have been just a bit too terrifying for a 12A. The main antagonist was also too creepy in appearance for 12 year olds and under to stomach.
My verdict: 15.
The film portrays teenagers being egged on to do increasingly more daring and ill-advised things for money, and that fact that some of these really dangerous acts don’t have negative consequences (eg, lying on a train track as a train crosses, or driving a motorcycle at perilously high speeds without sight [Dave Franco in motorcycle gear tho. Swoon]) could potentially send out the wrong message to impressionable pre-teens, which the 12A rating would have allowed them watch. Thus, agreed with the BBFC on this one.
The Shallows: 15 for sustained threat, bloody injury detail
My verdict: 12A.
To paraphrase a defender’s protestations after his clumsy foul has led to conceding a penalty, ‘Never a 15!!!’ This survival movie, about a young Medical school dropout (Blake Lively, surprisingly decent) and her battle with an aggressive shark, felt more vaguely unsettling, rather than relentlessly frightening. There were some moments where her vs the shark felt a bit touch-and-go, but the focus on the resourcefulness of Lively’s character gave me faith that she wasn’t going to go down without a fight; I didn’t feel the threat really was ‘sustained’.
Also, the injury detail, whilst grisly, was no worse than what Matt Damon had to address in The Martian, a 12A.
Suicide Squad: 15 for sustained threat, moderate violence
My verdict: undecided.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy it got a 15, because it meant I got to enjoy Suicide Squad in relative peace (the cinema was full when I saw it because I watched it the day it was released to maximise the number of hits I’d get for my review for it. I’m cool like that).
But in terms of precedent, the 12A-rated 10 Cloverfield Lane made me a lot more nervous than this film did, and I also thought the tone of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight was bleaker than Suicide Squad. Plus the BBFC rating for that 12A title featured ‘strong violence’, so if strong violence is allowed in a 12A (The Kite Runner, another 12A, has strong violence), then moderate violence shouldn’t be really flagged as a 15 category-defining issue, no? #pedanticChinawoman
On the other hand, I do think the scenes between Joker and Harley were a little disturbing, particularly when she voluntarily jumps into a vat of acid to pledge her love to him; the juxtaposition of Kehlani’s seductive vocals on ‘Gangster’ with the disquieting visuals perfectly capturing Harley's brainwashed mental state (Margot Robbie in glasses tho. Swoon). I guess Jared Leto’s Joker’s unhinged grin when he was torturing people contributed to the 15 certificate and may go someway to explaining why The Dark Knight wasn’t a 15 – Heath Ledger’s Joker committed acts of violence and murder, but those acts were more functional rather than Leto’s, who definitely had an element of relish to his acts.
So yeah, sitting on the fence on this one.
In conclusion, I fervently agree with the BBFC on two of their 15s, strongly disagree with one, and don’t know about the final one.
I previously mentioned 10 Cloverfield Lane; I’d like to highlight again that that was far too scary for a 12A (even if it did get a PG-13 in the States, but a lot of our 15-rated horrors are also PG-13, showing that the two certificates don’t directly align in the category of threat). Here is a film that definitely could have done with being one certificate higher; if any movie merits the ‘sustained threat’ rubric, it was 10 Cloverfield Lane, which filled me with dread from beginning to end.
Yet the BBFC, bafflingly, claimed the threat in 10 Cloverfield Lane was purely ‘moderate’. They also assigned ‘moderate threat’ to the 12A rating to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, somewhat laughably. Those two films were not at all comparable in the fear stakes.
The IFCO, the Irish film board, rated that a 15, as well as Suicide Squad, Lights Out and Nerve 15s, and The Shallows a 12A. Looks like me and the IFCO are in closer alignment when it comes to these five films!