Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2017

Out of the Rubble: Found Footage Films and the Post-9/11 World

Duncan Hubber


Crucial to the cultural analysis of “found footage” horror films is understanding the period in which the subgenre grew to mainstream prominence. Although the found footage concept was formally established in 1999 with the release of The Blair Witch Project (Myrick & Sánchez 1999), it wasn’t until the mid-to-late 2000s that entries became popular and plentiful. Like horror films from preceding decades, found footage absorbs and expresses the prevailing social anxieties of the 2000s, notably the traumatic imagery of 9/11, the increased threat of domestic terrorist attacks, random (rather than morally defined) victimisation, environmental and ecological degeneration, and a chaotic, invisible enemy. Moreover, the subgenre is effective because it appropriates what Neil McRobert terms the “representational modes” through which contemporary crises are communicated.

The films examined in this presentation—including Cloverfield (Reeves 2008) and REC (Balagueró & Plaza 2007)—are typical of post-9/11 horror, both in their modes of recording, which are notably raw and amateurish, as well as their content, which is marked by large panicked crowds and breached urban spaces. Unlike traditional disaster films, which take an overarching perspective of the event (for example, government, military or scientific personnel trying to combat the problem), these films unfold specifically from the point-of-view of one of the victims caught in the midst of “ground zero”. That the personal or handheld camera becomes the witness to this event, in contrast with the traditional cinematic perspective of the state, found footage horror emphasises the bewilderment of the average person as their reality is violently ruptured.

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About the Presenter

Duncan Hubber
Federation University Australia

Duncan Hubber is a PhD candidate at Federation University Australia, in the Faculty of Educationn and Arts. His thesis, entitled “Digital Wounds”, focuses on the relationship between found footage horror films and screen trauma theory, and draws upon the writings of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Judith Herman. His other research areas include the cinematic representation of cities and urban spaces, and the collision of romanticism and postmodernism in George R. R. Martin’s fantasy literature.