Sony's protests fail to sway R18 classification

9:15 pm on 22 September 2016

New American horror film Don't Breathe will be classified as R18 in New Zealand, despite its distributors protesting the move.

Don't Breathe, screenshot

A screenshot from the film, which follows a group of friends who become trapped inside a blind man's house after breaking into it. Photo: Screenshot / Don't Breathe

The Film and Literature Board of Review has upheld the Chief Censor's classification of the movie.

Sony Pictures had appealed the initial decision, wanting it to be R15.

The film, directed by Fede Alvarez, follows a group of friends who get trapped inside a blind man's house after breaking into it.

Chief Censor Andrew Jack said today's outcome was the right one, given extreme violence made up more than 80 percent of the film.

"Our main concern was the sexual violence in film, but also the extent of violence depicted.

"Also there was a kind of moral ambivalence that came through. None of the people featured in the film were entirely bad or good, so there's a level of moral ambiguity that you end up taking home after you've watched the film, which we thought would be more challenging for younger viewers," he said.

The film features two characters who are kidnapped and sexually violated, although the latter is reportedly not seen.

In his initial decision, Dr Jack wrote, "While the film does not promote or support sexual violence ... it does not leave the viewer entirely unsympathetic to some elements of the perpetrator's character either. This extra layer of complexity requires a significant level of maturity to process."

Dr Jack said exposure to such violent material had a strong impact on people.

"What the science tells us is that depictions of violent behaviour do have a strong impact on young people, on adults as well, but particularly for young people.

"It will lead over time to a higher tolerance for violence, it will lead to a higher likelihood that people will turn to violence to resolve disputes or solve problems, and it will also lead to a reduced level of empathy for our fellow human beings.

"The world in the future, if young people are shaped by this type of material, could well lead to a more violent society."

The board's decision also noted that its consideration of the film came during a time when the government acknowledged domestic violence in New Zealand was at such a level that further measures were necessary to address it.

"Movies which depict extreme violence and sexual violence towards women are of concern to New Zealand society as a whole," it said.

Dr Jack said there was an increasing amount of sexual violence in mainstream media, and more films needed to be classified as R18.

The Chief Censor recently ruled that another new film, Suicide Squad, should be reclassified from M to R13.