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‘Cloverfield’ and the Return of the Hard PG-13

There have been no reviews of 10 Cloverfield Lane yet, but this week, it was officially rated PG-13 for “thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language.” While the description offers little more than the premise of the “spiritual successor” to the 2008 film, it implies that it will directly follow Matt Reeves’ trendsetting pastiche of Godzilla and United 93 in how it handles its MPAA rating.

Most know the origin of the PG-13, born out of the terror that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins inspired to young audiences in 1984. The first five years of PG-13 films promised a degree of violence, profanity, and risqué behavior that, for contemporary viewers, carry more weight than a good number of modern films with the rating. When Batman made the rating chic in 1989, the fangs of a PG-13 receded over time, with the line between PG and PG-13 eventually blurring.

Cloverfield redefined the line eight years ago, at least where violence is concerned. Perhaps it was enhanced by the found-footage technique that it popularized, but the sense of dread and quick bursts of blood and gore were far removed from the boundaries that Spider-Man 3 and Transformers were inside. The Dark Knight pushed the rating further, taking on adult themes of corruption and terrorism never seen with the kind of realism that a superhero film had had before. The violence is rampant as well, and graphic enough that had Christopher Nolan implied less carnage—or slipped in emphatic profanity—it would have easily cleared an R rating.

10cloverfieldlane

Since then, a number of PG-13 films have come through with the certificate miraculously. Drag Me to Hell, The Green Hornet, and the Taken franchise have been just a few films that made the rating seem less family-friendly than one would assume, given the stigma that the rating tends to suffer in the action and horror genres. The Coen Brothers showed off a few graphic headshots and severed fingers in their brilliant True Grit remake, while fans and audiences were polarized by the foreboding, hopeless destruction offered by Man of Steel. While not on the brutal levels of their Netflix series, Marvel’s Phase 2 films did not exactly come clean-cut, from Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s cynical paranoia thrills to some of the shockingly raunchy one-liners in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, itself a sequel to Man of Steel, recently had an R-rated cut announced that implies the theatrical PG-13 flavor will not take many prisoners—something definitely supported by Zack Snyder’s approach to Superman lore in 2013.

Much has been made of Deadpool’s embracement of its over-17 demographic, but for almost a decade, a number of big films have reinforced that ever-small disclaimer of “parents strongly cautioned.” Will 10 Cloverfield Lane push the rating further? We’ll find out Friday.

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