After walking out of Killer Joe, one of my favorite films of SXSW, the NC-17 rating was one of the first things that hit me. It’s easy to see why the MPAA slapped it with that box-office death rating. When William Friedkin’s film gets nasty, it gets nasty. The film is about the rough and real kind of violence, not the goofy fun type. However, Killer Joe’s violence and sex is still plenty steps down from a handful of R-rated releases. We’ve seen violence of this magnitude done on-screen before, so it’s most likely a tonal issue the MPAA has with Friedkin’s stage adaptation.
LD Entertaiment recently attempted to appeal the NC-17 rating, but it has now been denied. Rumors are that they’ll appeal again soon. David Dinerstein, the president of LD Entertainment, and the film’s screenwriter Tracy Letts both gave statements to the appeals board, and I happened to have interviewed Letts the other day at SXSW.
Here’s what he had to say on the matter:
“You know, talking about the NC-17 rating, for instance, in some ways it’s because the characters are well-drawn and well-acted. It’s more real, so people identify with it more. There’s a reason that Saw and Hostel get R-ratings: they’re jokes and cardboard characters. They’re clearly very successful as jokes, but they’re jokes… To tell you the truth, I was really surprised. Billy [Friedkin] was really worried about it. At some point in filming, I said, ‘Oh, there’s nothing in here [that’d make it NC-17].’ I was taken totally by surprised.”
Killer Joe is currently rated NC-17 for “graphic aberrant content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality.”