This page explains results from a recent Censor for a Day event and goes through the criteria used by students to classify the film.
Censor for a Day gives senior media students first-hand experience of how the classification system for entertainment media works in New Zealand. The programme is not only about teaching young people about the classification system; it’s about hearing their views on the role of censorship in our society. As always, the views of participating students were thoughtful, constructive, and sometimes challenging. We are grateful for the chance to hear them.
The Term 2 event was held at Reading Cinemas Wellington, and Events Cinemas in Albany, St Lukes and Manukau. Around 500 students and 29 teachers from 23 schools attended.
To begin, the students were given a presentation about New Zealand's classification system by Henry Talbot, Senior Advisor in our Information Unit. This included an overview of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. They also learned about the process followed by Classification Advisors ('censors') when classifying films, electronic games and other publications.
Students then watched the film Super Dark Times, which had recently been classified, and screened at the 2017 New Zealand International Film Festival.
After lunch, students were taken through a classification exercise, guided by Classification Advisor Kim Bishop, to evaluate the film using our classification criteria. They individually completed a classification form and decided on an appropriate classification.
Henry then led a discussion about how the students applied the classification criteria to the film, and the reasons behind their classification choices. There was also opportunity for students to ask our staff questions about New Zealand's classification system.
Set in the mid 1990s, Super Dark Times follows a group of high school friends as they cover up the accidental murder of a classmate. Their guilt and anxiety eats away at them with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, one of the main characters, Zach, deals with his attraction to his classmate Allison.
The film was screened at the New Zealand International Film Festival and has received positive reviews for its authentic portrayal of young people faced with tragedy, guilt and paranoia.
We classified Super Dark Times R16 with the descriptive note 'Violence, offensive language, drug use, sex scenes, and content that may disturb'.
Super Dark Times is a visually stunning high-school nightmare.Vulture
Super Dark Times is super dark, and the most honest teen movie of 2017.The Verge
What makes Super Dark Times one of the most exciting American filmmaking debuts in recent years is how well Phillips and company grasp both the intensity and ephemerality of adolescence.Los Angeles Times
Due to the extent, degree and manner in which Super Dark Times deals with violence, offensive language, sex, cruelty and imitable or disturbing content, most students (98%) thought that it should be age-restricted. Their restrictions ranged from RP13 (restricted to people aged 13 and over unless accompanied by a parent or guardian) to R18 (restricted to adults).
The majority (70%) of students thought the film should be classified R16, followed by RP16 (9%), R18 and R15 (6% each). Only two percent of students thought the film should be unrestricted, opting for the M rating (more suitable for mature audiences aged 16 and over).
Students completed the classification form, a pared-down version of a seven-page consideration sheet that Classification Advisors use when classifying a film.
The exercise involved students answering questions that relate to specific criteria in the Classification Act. When deciding on a classification, students had to consider the potential for the film to be harmful to young people, while also considering the right to freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, including "the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind".
The students were asked to decide on a suitable classification and descriptive note that would prevent likelihood of injury to the public good from the availability of the film, while balancing the right to freedom of expression provided by the Bill of Rights Act.
Questions we ask in order to inform our classifications include:
Is a restricted classification a justified limit on freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights Act?
Please note that this section contains spoilers!
Thirty two students (6%) chose the R18 classification:
The constant use of offensive language alone raises an issue of acceptability in younger audiences. Violence and gore just takes it too far.Student, Wellington
It normalises heavily offensive language; the graphic violence can leave an emotional/mental effect on younger viewers; the sex scene and sexualisation of women can influence the way viewers will treat women in the real world.Student, Albany
Thirteen students (3%) chose the RP18 classification:
This film is not appropriate for anyone under 16, as its graphic scenes and showcase of brutal mutilation of the human body is rather frightening and could create multiple fears in people. Also the film could encourage young people to do things such as trespassing and underage alcohol use. The reason that I have rated the film RP18 is because of the drug use, which could motivate 16-17 year olds to do drugs, and the constant sexual themes, which are rather graphic in a couple of scenes. Also the end fight scene is rather violent with lots of intimidating footage. The RP18 is also because some 17 year olds are mature enough to handle it, however others are not, as 17 is an impressionable age.Student, Wellington
The majority (70%) of students classified the film R16, and for a variety of reasons. The most common concerns were the disturbing depictions of violence, especially the realistic ways in which teenage boys fight and hurt each other; as the characters were around the same age as the students, the conduct really resonated with them. Students were also mindful of the film's sexual content and offensive language.
It's very gory and I don't think it's suitable for 14/15 year olds (let alone younger) as it could seriously traumatise them and I feel like it would cause them serious concern. I feel like 16 and older can make their own decisions. It is gory but when you get to a certain point you have to accept that it will be shocking as that is the nature of the film, and age won't make a difference to that shock.Student, Wellington
Just purely because of how harsh the film is and the implied violence as well as suicidal thoughts. Social message behind it, must kill to fit in. People our age can relate to what these kids are going through.Student, Albany
The naturalistic, raw style of the dialogue and the main characters made the film very relatable and real. Unless shown to a mature audience, the content could affect young people by making them feel as if the film was TOO real and confronting.Student, St Lukes
Viewers should be mature enough to handle the sexual references and violence. Younger audiences may be led to misconceptions about what is normal and right, as the film represents drugs and sex. 16 year-olds are still forced to re-evaluate their lifestyle and are mature enough to know the consequences, risks and effects of activities depicted.Student, Manukau
Extensive violence and crime - I felt uncomfortable watching and I am not sensitive to these things usually. Language was explicit and could be harmful to younger people, the expressive casual manner was alarming. The choices made by the characters were a bad example about what to do in the situation. Under 16s probably wouldn't comprehend the seriousness of the situation and how it was dealt with. Also swearing and sexual innuendo used too casually for a young audience.Student, Manukau
RP16 was chosen by 9% of students. They generally acknowledged that some content in the film could be harmful to children and younger teens, but that having a parent or guardian present would allow for discussion and help put the content of the film in context.
I think there is some heavy content that less mature audiences may struggle to deal with. However, I think if you are watching with a parent it may be easier to comprehend and talk about. 16 year olds are likely to have had some exposure to drugs and coarse language. I also think both the horror, violence, and psychological parts of the film aren't too too hard to deal with; however they are heavily present.Student, Wellington
Use of the R15 classification by the Classification Office is uncommon, but was chosen by 29 (6%) of students. The reasons given by students who chose R15 were almost identical to those who classified it at an R16:
I believe that due to the fact it relates to teenagers they can understand certain aspects of the film. Although there are some maturity requirements in order to take in the visual experience as this film is not for the faint hearted.Student, Albany
There are some quite gruesome scenes in the film. especially the stabbing part. There is excessive use of language and sexual references, but I think 15 is a mature age to watch these aspects.Student, Albany
The blood and gore may scare younger audiences, so I went for an age where the person can process these ideas and themes. The drug use and violence themes will probably confuse and influence them to follow these actions, so that's why I gave it an R15 rating.Student, St Lukes
13 (3%) chose the R13 classification. Those classifying the film R13 were mostly concerned that children were likely to be shocked and disturbed by the material.
Violence could be imitated by those too young to understand. It may also scare the children who see it and be upsetting. Language could also be imitated which could be harmful to young children.Student, Albany
The film contains realistic violence which children would find traumatising, especially when the killings are done to young individuals. There is also usage of drugs which may influence kids that it is 'good' to do.Student, Albany
It seems targeted at a teen audience, because they are [old] enough to understand the film and tell the difference between fact and fiction. There are some bloody scenes, drug use. Could influence a young audience that smoking weed is ok, maybe could influence violent/murderous acts, and make them think about sex a lot before puberty, which is probably not ideal.Student, St Lukes
Under13s will be disturbed and freaked out over the graphic content as they have a basic understanding about some things in the world, but not murder. 13+ will find the scenes disturbing but not enough to mentally scar them. The main characters are familiar and relatable to teens because that's the stage of life they're at. The film is trying to target teens with the main characters and themes.Student, Manukau
Only three students (1%) chose the RP13 classification. These students generally thought the film’s content was not inherently harmful to children, so long as they had adult supervision:
The violence, blood and gore in this film could be harmful and scary to younger viewers however it is not that gory or scary in order for it to be restricted to people over 13 in my opinion. There is also drug use and sexual references and sex in this film which could be offensive to some.Student, St Lukes
The film was violent and could create ideas for people under 16, however mature children with parents' consent would easily enjoy this movie. Kids over 13 will understand more about ethics and the purpose of the film therefore may not be as shocked.Student, Manukau
11 (2%) students opted for the unrestricted M classification, often noting the educational value and sometimes comedic tone of the film. There were concerns from some that age was not a good marker of maturity.
Swear words are thrown about by kids and teenagers just as much as adults, so what is really coming from restricting it for language? (The violence) is graphic but not so much that you can actually see the blade inside someone. Some people can't handle it, but as shown by the audience reaction it was one that was more comedic rather than horrific. People are always going to copy what they see on TV, so no point stopping it. Barely sex. People watch porn from early-as ages.Student, St Lukes
The Classification Office restricted the film to people 16 years and over due to its treatment of violence, offensive language, horror, drug use and sexual material. In our summary of reasons for the decision, we said:
The dominant effect of Super Dark Times is a dark thriller that intertwines realistic horror with surreal narrative sequences. While teenagers of all ages will identify with the protagonists, the realistic depictions of intense violence are likely to shock and disturb children and younger teens. The violence committed by Josh is callous and unrepentant. Younger audiences are also unlikely to have the maturity to understand that the trio of boys who hid Daryl’s body after the accidental death, are themselves committing a crime. Young viewers’ exposure to highly offensive language used in an intimidating and aggressive manner, in particular homophobic slurs, is another reason for a restriction. The film’s sexual material is clearly intended for mature viewers. Older teenagers and adults are likely to have the maturity and life experience to put these strong themes into context and effectively distance themselves from any negative influence. Balancing these harms against the right to freedom of expression as set out in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, a restriction on the availability of Super Dark Times to older teenagers and adults is a reasonable restriction in order to prevent injury to the public good.Classification Office written decision, July 2017
Students were asked if the film contained potentially ‘restrictable’ material, and to describe how the film depicts or otherwise deals with this content. Almost all students agreed that Super Dark Times contained violence, crime, offensive language and sex.
All students thought the film contained violence. Of note, the film contains two scenes in which teenage boys fight with a sword. Quite early on, the character Josh accidentally stabs his classmate Daryl in the neck during a playfight. The injury occurs implicitly but the wounding is shown in graphic, bloody detail.
Students were forthcoming about how the violence made them feel. Many described it as graphic, realistic and disturbing. In Albany, a few were visibly upset and left the theatre . Of all criteria, the violence resonated with the students because it was performed by believable characters who were friends with each other, and who were of similar age to the students themselves.
A minority of students thought the violence was not overly strong.
Graphic violence! It focuses more on their injury and how the blood was gushing out. It made me uncomfortable because of the blood.Student, Albany
The violence was very prominent, and was focused on quite a bit. Seeing all the blood made me feel nauseous.Student, Albany
There was quite a lot of violence throughout the film. Emotional and physical, very shocking and hard to watch.Student, St Lukes
It was horrifying to see how a friend killed a friend.Student, Manukau
The violence was explicit, it made me lose my sense, honestly I've never been grossed out like this before, it would impact young viewers.Student, Manukau
The violence was graphic and explicit, horrible to watch, made me feel sick and want to look away.Student, Manukau
The fight scenes, particularly between Josh and Zach at the end. Josh was psychotic and they were best friends, so it was more impactful. Upsetting tone.Student, Manukau
Most students (72%) identified elements of sex in the film. Sexual content included brief pornographic imagery, verbal references, humorous physical gestures, and one sex scene.
Some students noted that the sex scene between Zach and his sweetheart Allison was consensual. Others found the scene 'creepy' as it played out during a surreal dream sequence. Several students thought that the sex 'hinted at necrophilia' as it took place in the woods, at the place where Daryl's body was buried. Some felt this depiction of sex was quite strong, even thought it was implicit.
Many students talked about nudity in the film - there was in fact no full nudity, but Zach and Allison had sex in their underwear.
Strong graphic dialogue regarding sex and a dream with sexual actions. However it is nothing too explicit.Student, Albany
Dark, used in a creepy and psychopathic way, in a dream.Student, Albany
Shown throughout the film, several times explicitly. Humorous at some points, disturbing in others.Student, Albany
They were pretty sexual but mostly consensual.Student, St Lukes
Awkward dream, uncomfortable for viewers.Student, St Lukes
Sex presented in a funny way, almost taking the piss.Student, St Lukes
Sex was long, but not strong because there was no nudity or private areas exposed.Student, Manukau
Sex - dream hinted at necrophilia with corpse’s location, not graphic, no genital nudity.Student, Manukau
Students identified the crimes of murder, and the friends covering up the murder, drug use and potential rape.
Generally they felt the drug use was normalised, but the fact that it was performed by troubled characters who suffered consequences meant that the drug use was not glamorised or promoted.
No sexual violence was shown or spoken of, but one scene hints that it might have occurred.
Drug use - weed, murder and harm which is extremely upsetting.Student, St Lukes
The three characters are all either directly involved or are witness to the crime of murder. They are punished physically and mentally by their actions.Student, Manukau
Crime throughout - drugs, murder, rape all associated together, didn't really show consequences.Student, Manukau
Josh killed his friend - was very realistic, an accident, that could happen with you and your friends.Student, Manukau
Almost all students (98%) thought the film contained offensive language. This language was used extensively throughout the film, in a variety of situations from casual banter to moments of stress and tension.
Students were polarised in their views here: some felt that the often-aggressive use of language would be harmful to younger viewers, while others felt the language was common amongst today's teenagers (the intended audience), so wasn't such a bad thing.
The language used was not used in an aggressive way but as reaction to all incidents, which could imply that using foul language is okay.Student, Albany
(Used in) insulting conversation, younger people would tend to imitate what older people do and say.Student, Manukau
Lots of potty mouth but not offensive.Student, Manukau
Offensive language was aggressive, used casually and in conversation, makes it seem OK to use in conversation.Student, Manukau
Offensive language is used so much you get desensitised to it.Student, Manukau
Consistent swearing/foul language from most characters - seems somewhat normal by the end of the film. Derogatory words used in typical/casual situations.Student, Manukau
84% of students thought the film contained horror. Most considered the bloody violence and bodily harm to be horrific. Others noted film techniques and psychological horror designed to heighten fear and tension in the audience.
Strong horror shots often focused solely on the infliction and injuries eg close up of Daryl's severed fingers.Student, Albany
People being killed, showing the blood and gore, length was uncomfortable.Student, St Lukes
(The sword violence at the beginning and end), it was extremely uncomfortable - sword, scary to watch also disturbing.Student, St Lukes
Horror scenes were very strong - Daryl's fingers cut off and the two girls cut with a knife - realistic and intense!Student, Manukau
Almost all students (83%) thought the film contained cruelty. This was generally linked to the violence performed. Many students also noted the (mercy) killing of a deer in the opening scene.
Many students referred to cruelty when Josh had Allison and Megan tied up and locked in a bedroom. It was implied that Josh had tortured and harmed the girls with his sword, as they were terrified and had bloody wounds.
Torture of girls by sword, very painful to endure.Student, Albany
Not much (cruelty) shown, but when the girl was tied up I found that cruel/offensive.Student, St Lukes
Thirty-seven percent of students identified aspects of self-harm. They noted Zach punching the wall in anger, and the hint that a minor character may have jumped off a bridge.
Zach hitting the wall but no suicide or depressing side of the act.Student, Manukau
Suicide was casually mentioned: "it makes me want to kill myself" - not impactful. When he was standing on the bridge, you got the impression he wanted to jump, made me feel worried and uncomfortable.Student, Manukau
Seventy nine percent of students thought the film depicted dangerous imitable conduct. They noted sword play, drug use, and the use of offensive language.
A lot of young children might be influenced by the casual use of drugs.Student, Albany
Murders - sword use might make young teens think it’s cool.Student, St Lukes
Playing with a sword while on drugs.Student, Manukau
Descriptive notes inform the public about content within a film that may concern them. The descriptive note for Super Dark Times informs potential viewers that the film contains 'violence, offensive language, drug use, sex scenes and content that may disturb'.
When students were asked what descriptive note they thought the film should have, most noted 'violence' (75%), followed by 'offensive language' (52%), 'sexual content' (44%), 'drug use' (33%) and 'horror' (29%). A minority of students also suggested descriptive notes to include 'mature themes', 'content that may disturb', 'cruelty', 'suicide' and 'gore'.
Students were asked who they thought was the intended or likely audience for the film. Most thought that older teenagers and young adults, especially males and fans of the thriller genre, were the target audience.
16+, I don't think my nana would like it.Student, Manukau
Students were asked about the dominant effect of the film as a whole: what type of film was it and how would it make viewers feel?
Many students identified the film as a dark and intense thriller with moments of dark comedy. They said they could relate to the issues of the teen characters. Quite a few said the horror and violence were so intense and realistic that they were left feeling traumatised. Many felt the film left a sense of fear that a person’s friends could secretly be psychopathic murderers.
Students also noted a moral message: if you see a crime, report it, otherwise it will eat away at you. And safety messages such as 'don't play with weapons'.
Shocking! Encourages thought about stability of human mind; friends turning on friends.Student, Wellington
Mixed emotions, amazed by its great plot but also frightened/horrified by content.Student, Albany
Fear - a sense of realism, but comedic elements pull you out of the story.Student, Albany
Shocked - started off light which made the shock more intense. It got quite intense and gross but was nothing overwhelmingly terrifying.Student, Albany
Intense, a lot to process afterward, I felt quite disturbed and weird.Student, Manukau
Don't play with sharp objects, and always report anything that happens even if it was an accident in case it starts something bigger.Student, Manukau
It shatters the illusion of murderers just being monsters - it humanises them which to some would be uncomfortable and shocking.Student, Manukau
It will make the audience's tummies turn when watching this dark, intense thriller, but some of the tension is broken with comedic relief. It makes the audience question those around them and teens question their peers at school.Student, Manukau
When deciding on a film’s classification, the Classification Office must consider if the film has any merit, value or importance such as artistic merit or cultural significance. In some cases this could lead to a lighter classification.
Fifty-five percent of students thought the film had merit. They often referred to the film’s artistic merit (eg interesting story, impressive cinematography) and social value (moral messages/warnings).
Look into psychological makeup of different people, could explain why killers kill, artistically compelling, captures era subtly and well.Student, Wellington
It's extremely well made, with realistic 'teenage humour' that portrays high school very realistically. This definitely has artistic merit.Student, Albany
It deals with social issues surrounding mental illness, and how bullying abuse, rejection can lead to someone's tipping point.Student, St Lukes
The location and plot is very artistic, a good chilling thriller.Student, Manukau
Portrays what a lot of teens are going through, shows what little things such as weed can lead to.Student, Manukau
A psychological approach to a teen manslaughter turning into something far more twisted. Cinematography and story development are extremely well executed.Student, Manukau
Teachers attending were encouraged to fill in a feedback form about the event. This feedback helps us ensure that the event is meeting the needs of Media Studies educators and their students.
We would like to thank the film’s production company, Ways & Means, and the New Zealand International Film Festival Trust. Without their generosity in lending us the film, the event would not have been possible.
We would also like to thank the cinema managers, projectionists and caterers at Reading and Events cinemas, who provided us with excellent service and ensured the events ran smoothly.
Lastly we would like to thank the students and teachers from the cities we visited who made the event another success, and who gave us valuable feedback in the process. We hope to see some of you at a future event!
Super Dark Times perfectly nails the minute details of adolescence - a minefield of confusion about right and wrong that leads to all kinds of impulsive bad decisions.Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly