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Film case study - The Grudge

Rating changed

Complaints lead to rating change from M to R16.

The Grudge, an American remake of a Japanese film, originally carried an M rating in New Zealand. This rating was given to the film through the process of cross-rating unrestricted films with the rating they have been given by the Australian Classification Board.

Find out more about the cross-rating process

The plot

The film is about a violent curse.

The Grudge is a psychological drama/horror film set in Tokyo (though American actors play the lead characters). A young American woman is studying and working as a part-time home-help in Tokyo. She goes to help an invalid American woman and becomes involved in the curse of a house inhabited by violently enraged ghosts who kill all who come into contact with them.

Complaints

The Classification Office received complaints about horror scenes in the film.

In letters of complaint made to the Classification Office, members of the public raised concerns about the M rating on the film meaning that anyone, including young children, could potentially watch it. They felt that an age restriction would be more appropriate for the film, in one case after their child had seen the film, and in another after having viewed the film themselves.

Last week my 11-year-old daughter was talked into seeing this by a friend and a level headed, sensible child has been rendered seriously disturbed. I wonder if an age restricted rating, even R13, might have been more appropriate.

Letter from complainant

I am concerned that the rating on the movie The Grudge ...does not reflect the disturbing potential impact this movie may have on some audiences... I do not like the idea that children will be allowed to see this film, and parents will let them because it is only an M-rated picture. I have a lot of respect for your office and the function it provides... However, on this particular occasion I felt like writing a friendly email to wonder if maybe certifying this movie for general exhibition might not have been a little generous... as a movie lover who has a strong belief in the function performed by the OFLC, I feel the need to register my feeling that, on this occasion, another look at the classification might be in order.

Letter from complainant

The Chief Censor called The Grudge in for examination.

On 14 December 2004 the Chief Censor directed the Secretary for Internal Affairs under s13(3) of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, to obtain a copy of the film and submit it for classification. In his direction to the Secretary for Internal Affairs to submit The Grudge, the Chief Censor outlined the following reasons:

The BBFC [British Board of Film Classification] restricted The Grudge to persons 15 years of age and over with a note that it contained 'strong psychological horror'. The rating given by the Australian Board appears anomalous in light of ratings awarded in other jurisdictions. The Office has also received complaints about the rating of the film. Although nearing the end of its theatrical run, any reclassifications will apply to identical video and DVD versions.

Former Chief Censor Bill Hastings

Classification considerations

The film was submitted on 21 December 2004 and examined for classification. Under section 3(1) of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, matters of horror, cruelty and violence were considered in relation to The Grudge:

Some scenes in the film, especially those involving the depiction of realistic domestic violence, suicide and gruesome murders, are horrific in nature... Most depictions of violence employ camera cut-away techniques to reduce their impact and blood is minimal. Violence is implied by the discovery of dead bodies following scenes in which characters who investigate odd noises are suddenly confronted by ghostly faces and their bodies are pulled up into roof spaces or down into baths of water... Elements of cruelty are involved in the fear inflicted on characters before their death.

Classification Office decision

Some scenes stood out as being more horrific.

There are a couple of scenes that differ slightly from the rest of the film in terms of their impact. One is a scene in which a character who was earlier snatched by one of the ghostly creatures haunting the house is rediscovered shuffling through an office at night. When she turns around, it is revealed that a part of her face has been removed. The depiction, although brief, stands out in the film in terms of its graphic impact. Another high-impact scene is a grainy black and white sequence which shows a man terrorising his wife and child before killing them and then himself. This scene functions as explanatory or contextual to the one which precedes it in which a woman's body is discovered. This rapidly edited sequence is of considerable impact due to its more realistic implication of domestic abuse and cruelty.

Classification Office decision

The film is likely to have a lasting impact on audiences.

The Classification Office concluded that although the infliction of serious physical harm in the feature was generally implied rather than directly depicted, the feature involved some genuinely frightening elements. While the impact of many of these scenes is lessened by the unlikely nature of some of the scenarios, the violence occurs in areas where people, especially children, are encouraged to believe they are safe.

The fear response of the audience is heightened by their own normal feelings of vulnerability when it is dark and they are alone. This is why fear responses are well-known to continue when the viewers of psychological thrillers and horror films return to their own real lives. Younger viewers, with less ability to determine the real from the choreographed special effect, are likely to find some of the more frightening scenes with their heavily implied violence, disturbing to them in other real situations. That the violently enraged and murderous 'spooks' are all Asian could also have a negative impact on the attitudes of younger viewers who have been disturbed or frightened by the publication. For these reasons the availability of the publication is restricted to persons 16 years of age and over.

Classification Office decision

The Grudge was classified 'R16: contains horror scenes'.

Classification Office decision for The Grudge (PDF, 142KB)

Other film case studies

The Grudge poster

An abundance of above-average scares ultimately makes The Grudge's portrait of contagious anger, violence, and death creepily unsettling.

Nick Schager, Slant Magazine

Useful links

Stills from the film

A still image from the film of a view of a woman's eye, seen through a curtain of black hair
Eye through hair
A still image from the film of a white-skinned ghostly boy sitting behind the bars of a staircase landing
Ghost boy
A still image from the film of a dark-haired ghostly woman reaching round a doorway with her claw-like hands
Freaky hands
A still image from the film of an angled view of a threatening-looking blood-covered doorway
Scary doorway

Classification

R16 classification label
R16: contains horror scenes