New Australian horror film The Loved Ones opens around the country this Thursday. It's really quite an incredible piece of cinema, so completely and utterly brutal and committed in its portrayal of twisted violence and teenage madness. It's tag of "Pretty in Pink meets Wolf Creek" is a good one and I encourage anyone who enjoys horror movies to seek it out since movies like The Loved Ones don't come around very often.
When I saw the movie a couple of months ago I thought for sure it would receive an R18+ rating from the Office of Film & Literature Classification, Australia's rating body. R18+ is Australia's harshest film rating and yet unlike America it is not a hindrance. When a film receives an NC17 rating over there it all but condemns it to arthouse cinemas and minimal returns at the box office. That Wolf Creek was rated R18+ and, if memory serves, debuted at #1 at the box office proves that the rating is far from the scarlet letter it could be. Chopper, another iconic Aussie film from the last decade, also got hit with the rating and that didn't stop it from causing a sensation.
So I was completely staggered when I saw a poster for The Loved Ones recently and saw the little red box indicating an MA15+ rating. MA15+, surely they jest! No, no, apparently an MA15+ rating it gets, which, for anyone outside of these fair shores, means anyone under the age of 15 can see the film if they attend with an adult. Or, if they guy a ticket to Paranormal Activity 2 and sneak in. The Loved Ones' rating is based on "High impact violence", something that the film has in spades and yet somehow that violence, as highly impactful as the OFLC seems to think it is, is just as bad as Buried's "Strong coarse language", a justification for its own MA15+ just weeks prior.
While I think it's silly to be reductive about the rating system to say "well if [movie 1] is rated this way then [movie 2] shouldn't be", but there's simply no way I can fathom how a movie such as The Loved Ones can be rated MA15+ given the history of our ratings. Just last week Saw VII 3D was released in Australian cinemas with an R18+ rating. The OFLC's reasoning behind that very restrictive rating (nobody under 18 is permitted, even with a parent)? "High impact violence, blood and gore".
So, apparently, the existence of "blood and gore" tips it over the edge into R18 territory? What version of The Loved Ones did the ratings board see? The Loved Ones is a movie in which feet get nailed to the floor, drills meet flesh, blood is spilled and knives are drawn. And to compare it again to Wolf Creek - rated R18+ five years ago for "High level realistic violence, strong coarse language" - I'm not really sure how that one is any worse than The Loved Ones, but who can make heads or tails of the OFLC at the best of times? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning was rated R18+ for "High level horror violence". Vague as they are, I'm not sure what the difference is, but what can you do?
All of this is basically to say "I have no idea what goes on at the ratings board". As much as I want The Loved Ones to be successful, I think it would be absurd for parents do not take their children to see it. When I saw Buried two parents had brought along their two children, both of which looked under 10. I hope those children kept their parents awake all night with their nightmares of being buried alive. Really. Still, at least the OFLC aren't as weird as America's MPAA, an organisation that allows horrific violence to be exhibited to anyone, but the moment two adult characters even hint at being sexual with one another they get slapped with a heavily restrictive rating. Case in point being the recent NC17 rating handed to Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine. It will be interesting to see how the OFLC handle that film later in the year.