Apocalyptic Dread

American Film at the Turn of the Millennium

By Kirsten Moana Thompson

Subjects: Popular Culture
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Paperback : 9780791470442, 207 pages, March 2007
Hardcover : 9780791470435, 207 pages, March 2007

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

1. Apocalyptic Dread, Kierkegaard, and the Cultural Landscape of the Millennium

2. Cape Fear and Trembling: Familial Dread

3. Strange Fruit: Candyman and Supernatural Dread

4. Dolores Claiborne: Memorial Dread

5. Se7en in the Morgue: Dystopian Dread

6. Signs of the End of the World: Apocalyptic Dread

7. War of the Worlds: Uncanny Dread

Works Cited

The power and presence of dread in recent American cinema.


In Apocalyptic Dread, Kirsten Moana Thompson examines how fears and anxieties about the future are reflected in recent American cinema. Through close readings of such films as Cape Fear, Candyman, Dolores Claiborne, Se7en, Signs, and War of the Worlds, Thompson argues that a longstanding American apocalyptic tradition permeates our popular culture, spreading from science-fiction and disaster films into horror, crime, and melodrama. Drawing upon Kierkegaard's notion of dread—that is, a fundamental anxiety and ambivalence about existential choice and the future—Thompson suggests that the apocalyptic dread revealed in these films, and its guiding tropes of violence, retribution, and renewal, also reveal deep-seated anxieties about historical fragmentation and change, anxieties that are in turn displaced onto each film's particular "monster," whether human, demonic, or eschatological.

Kirsten Moana Thompson is Associate Professor of Film Studies at Wayne State University and coeditor (with Terri Ginsberg) of Perspectives on German Cinema.


"The author's prose … is lucid and the book makes useful historical and cinematic connections. " — CHOICE

"This important contribution to the study and revaluation of popular cinema offers a methodology that is multifaceted in its uses of philosophical, historical, and cultural insights to characterize contemporary cinematic production. It will be of extreme interest to scholars in film and cultural studies, as well as to a more general audience interested in film. " — Marcia Landy, editor of The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media

"Thompson brings to her study a great wealth of valuable and revealing research and shows a truly expert command of film analysis. Engaging and provocative, the book lends itself well to assignments in college courses, where professors can assign film screenings in conjunction with the individual case studies. It can be used in classes on film, cultural studies, religion, women's studies, and popular culture. " — Timothy Shary, author of Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema