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