Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema

November 8, 2012

Author: Kevin J. Wetmore

Publisher: Bloomsbury/Continuum

Edition: First

Pages: 248

Price: £16.99

ISBN: 9781441197979

In setting out to identify representational changes in American horror cinema since 9/11, credit is due to the author for attempting to engage with the way that popular, generic, mainstream entertainment, largely aimed at a young adult audience, represents and responds to the real and still raw horror of these attacks. Kevin Wetmore argues that emotional responses to the event and its cultural aftermath are best captured by horror movies, as this genre sets out to create fear in its audience, just as terrorist attacks do. And it's in this conflation of the events of 11 September 2001 with a movie that he and I part company.

Wetmore clarifies that he is exploring a range of horror films "regardless of quality or popularity", but this huge scope of analysis poses problems. Although noting that the nature of co-productions makes defining an "American" film difficult, he often uses examples of films that have no US involvement at all. Similarly, although he states that none of the words in this book's title is without ambiguity, he often refers to "us" and how "we" feel, making clear that he assumes his readership is American.

While Wetmore is prepared to include the natural disasters of New Zealand, Japan and Haiti as events that have contributed to the plethora of horrific imagery presented in film since 2001, he makes no reference to the technological changes that make omnipresent 24/7 communication technologies so narratively challenging for the genre, the search for non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the cultural optimism that led to Barack Obama being elected US president in 2008. Just when I thought that Guantanamo wouldn't get a mention, up pops a chapter on torture porn in which Wetmore's defence of Abu Ghraib concludes: "It is not evil to harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize or destroy those who, lacking innocence, deserve it."

More usefully, perhaps, in addition to contending that some movies (such as the 2005 film War of the Worlds) are directly concerned with representing the World Trade Center attacks, Wetmore argues for the emergence of general tropes and themes prevalent in horror films since 9/11. These include a broad move towards representations of destruction in New York rather than Los Angeles; the use of handheld, chaotic camerawork; themes of random and anonymised death (rather than death as a penance for violating moral codes); and more films involving hopeless, bleak despair rather than narrative retribution. This identification of themes, especially in chapter 1, is (perhaps rightly) ghoulish and unsettling in its focus on imagery that is heavily reminiscent of the aftermath of real destruction.

Who is it for? Horror aficionados and devout Republicans.

Presentation: Clearly presented.

Would you recommend it? No.

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