Film-Philosophy 25 (3):362-385 (2021)

In this article, I explore what I call the persecutory trope – which underscores the alterity of the phantom and its relentless haunting and spectral oppression of the protagonists – in recent American ghost films, connecting it to the ethical thought of the continental philosophers, Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida. Films like The Ring, The Grudge, It Follows, and Sinister depict terrifying spectral antagonists whose relentless persecution of the protagonists often defies comprehension and narrative closure. I suggest that these films comprise a specific supernatural subgenre due to the particular way in which their specters haunt the victims. The relentlessness of the spectral assailant, and the foreclosure of actions by which the specter is either expelled from or reintegrated into symbolic understanding of its victim, can be construed in terms of the ethical relationship between the other and the self in the work of Levinas and Derrida. Their focus on the moral agent's responsibility to an other, an obligation that the agent does not undertake voluntarily, entails the spectralization of ethical responsibility insofar as it does not rest on solid, evidential grounds. This article shows how the spectralization of the ethical resonates in recent American ghost films through the disruptive effects of the specter's haunting and responsive mourning enacted by protagonists.
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DOI 10.3366/film.2021.0180
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