Scaring Up Controversy
By Carl Kozlowski
Since its inception in 1968, the movie-ratings system has often caused confusion, especially since the PG-13 rating was invented in 1984 and the NC-17 went into effect in 1990.
Viewers can almost always count on the fact that nearly any amount of punching, kicking and shooting—as long as it’s bloodless—will earn a PG-13 rating, meaning most children will be able to see it without too many restrictions.
On the other hand, any nudity combined with sex is slapped with a more prohibitive R or NC-17 rating. Any more than three uses of the most offensive obscenity also earn a film one of those ratings.
But a couple of times a year, a new release receives an R rating, one that could mean the difference between success and failure, that appears capricious because it makes no sense. One such film is The Conjuring, starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga and Lily Taylor.
Based on the supposedly true story of demonic activity battled by Ed and Lorraine Warren, a married Roman Catholic couple and lay anti-demon experts, The Conjuring is undeniably frightening. But it was tagged with an R rating, despite having almost no violence, foul language, sex or nudity. The official reason for the R designation: The film was deemed too scary to qualify for a PG-13 rating.
The movie begins with the Warrens (Wilson and Farmiga) being asked by Caroline Perron (Taylor) to examine her home due to unexplainable incidents that are terrifying her daughters. Strange noises are heard at all hours of the night, the clocks in the house stop at 3:07am each morning, and things break or go missing. Soon after that, freak accidents start occurring when the parents start exploring the house and its history.
The Warrens soon come to believe that the Perron house is indeed besieged by demons. Since no priests are immediately available to perform exorcisms, they are called upon to do the job. Thus, an onslaught of terrifying attacks by demons (frightening but bloodless) begins, with the Warrens waging a clever yet nerve-wracking war to free the house from evil.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is that it’s directed by James Wan, who foisted the torture-porn trendsetter Saw series upon the world. Whereas those movies relied upon graphic torture scenes to sell tickets, Wan directs this film with an almost Hitchcockian sense of psychological suspense between bursts of inspired terror, leaving anything truly frightening up to sounds, ghostly images and artful anticipation.
The screenplay by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes is top-notch, as are the performances by lead actors, who are better known for their work in top-tier indie films and acclaimed television series.
The ratings board’s ruling appears to boil down to its historic bias against movies with strong Christian themes and characters, like the 2006 hit Facing the Giants, which instead of a G received a PG rating for “thematic elements” that the board members admitted were strong elements of faith expressed by the characters.
The shame of this film’s R rating is filmmakers and actors have pulled off a movie that can scare the wits out of an audience in a tasteful way, only to receive a rating that will keep some of the strongly desired teen audience away, not to mention a Christian audience that might have embraced this movie if it had a less restrictive rating.
But don’t let the rating fool you. The Conjuring is a sleeper hit in the making.