University of Limerick
OShea_2017_experiencing.pdf (5.61 MB)

Experiencing the digital image in popular cinema: a perspective on the horror and crime genres

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posted on 2022-11-02, 13:05 authored by Noel Gerard O'Shea
The discourse surrounding digital technology in popular film has usually focused on computer-generated imagery (CGI), overlooking the method of image-capture involving digital cameras. I argue that the replacement of film cameras with digital ones introduces a paradigm shift in viewer engagement. Concentrating on the horror and crime genres, this thesis makes the case that found footage horror and the digital crime films of Michael Mann, as the only genre categories of mainstream cinema which place a primacy on the digital aesthetic over the traditional filmic “look,” provide unique “testing sites” for the contemporary, culturally-aware genre fan. While such representative films as The Blair Witch Project, Trollhunter, Collateral and Miami Vice still retain links with classical cinema in terms of narrative tropes and certain similarities of style, the dominant position of narrative is nonetheless challenged by the new cinematic spaces of these digital films. Organised around the central, controlling position of the diegetic camera, and allowing the viewer a more phenomenologically-inflected encounter with the film’s media-driven digital aesthetic, the spatial zones of the found footage horror film give the viewer scope to contemplate the extra-narrative cues delivered by the film, inviting a sensuous, rather than an intellectual, engagement. Moreover, by mapping their own real-world experience of contemporary information culture onto the digital aesthetic of the films, viewers can discover a site of enquiry to engage in totally new ways with such contemporary problems as national identity under the threat of globalisation. Mann’s crime films, on the other hand, predicated on hyperreal, digitally rendered environments containing masculinities in crisis, encode a culturally-shaped subjective experience into their digital aesthetic and offer another site of phenomenological engagement for the viewer. The very act of locating these sites signals a transformation in viewer engagement with genre cinema and indicates a new way of seeing.



  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Couglan, David

Second supervisor

Kelly, Michael G.





Department or School

  • Scoil na Gaeilge, an Bhéarla, agus na Cumarsáide | School of English, Irish, and Communication

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