“Sharon attracted violent men,” declares the narrator in Cecelia Condit’s Possibly in Michigan. “Strangely, she had a way of making the violence seem like it was their idea.” Condit’s 1983 experimental short indeed places violence at the fore, however, unlike the myriad slashers that would follow, Possibly in Michigan upends the images that have been traditionally assigned to women in this sub-genre, initiating broader dialogues about female representation in the process.
Primarily, Condit subverts common horror tropes by reconceptualizing Barbara Creed’s “monstrous feminine,” or the linkage between that which “disturbs identity, system, and order” and the female body. Possibly in Michigan, at face value, aligns main characters Sharon and Janice with the monstrous feminine: shots of Sharon’s body in particular are intercut with the images of animals and decaying bodies. Yet, in the film’s climax, the tables are turned. Their stalker, Arthur, is eventually marked as the monster, with the women becoming “each other’s apotropaic allies” in killing, cooking, and consuming the assailant. The female body, rather than interrupting the patriarchal social order through abject behaviors, is instead a powerful weapon of self-defense against the horrors of and within society.
Moreover, Possibly in Michigan’s experimental structure propels its status as a subversive horror film. Dreamlike in tone, the flow of narrative action is interrupted repeatedly by arbitrary close-ups, extended montage sequences, and other film footage. Surrealism and horror oftentimes occupy the same space – surrealism becomes a lens for examining the “violent, embodied assault on the social structures propping up modernity.” Possibly in Michigan certainly materializes the horrors of sexual violence, but it becomes subversive through its stream-of-consciousness portrayal of this violence, shown from the perspective of the female leads. By returning Arthur’s murderous gaze, and inviting the audience to laugh with them in the face of terror, Sharon and Janice ultimately wield “the power to discomfit, the power that is […] to pose a threat.”
Possibly in Michigan closes on the image of a garbage truck, slowly, unknowingly crushing Arthur’s remains. Only three people – Sharon, Janice, and the viewer – have experienced the events that occurred in the film’s opening. Perhaps this is the connective thread between this and other female-directed horror media: to collectively share in everyday horrors and, in retaliation, “bite at the hand that [feeds], slap at the face that [eats].”
 Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. Routledge, 1993, p. 8.
 Duckworth, Courtney. “Laugh at the Face that Eats You: Cecelia Condit’s Possibly in Michigan.” Cleojournal.com.
 Lowenstein, Adam. Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film. Columbia University Press, 2005, p. 19.
 Duckworth, “Laugh at the Face that Eats You.”
 Mellencamp, Patricia. “Uncanny Feminism: The Exquisite Corpses of Cecelia Condit.” Framework 32 (1986), p. 108.
Experimental horror and "Possibly in Michigan"
I was so thrilled to see that you were writing on this film. I recently watched it for the first time while working on a section of my dissertation that addresses experimental horror films directed by women. In my research, I was fascinated to find that many female experimental filmmakers flirt with or overtly engage horror tropes. I really appreciated your discussion of the film's subversion of the "monstrous feminine." This film is also interesting because, as you note, it was made around the time that slasher franchises were taking over the horror industry. It doesn't seem coincidental that the title of the film places it in Michigan, because so many slasher films at the time took place in rural, often midwestern or eastern states (Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey). Do you have any thoughts on why Condit so explicitly situates her film in a similar locale as many of these concurrent horror films?
Selfishly (because it's something I'm working on as well), I would also like to pose a question to you about the overlap you see between horror and experimental film. What formal or thematic similarities have you noticed between the two? A few titles that come to mind for me are Peggy Ahwesh's The Scary Movie, Sarah Jacobsen's I Was a Teenage Serial Killer, and Stephanie Barber's Woman Stabbed to Death. Are there other experimental films, especially female-directed ones, that particularly blend horror and experimental film, and do you see them as achieving similar ends as Possibly in Michigan?
Erica, first off, I have to thank you for both widening the conversation this week toward the experimental end of female-directed horror and for giving me a reason to finally watch Possibly in Michigan.
In watching the short, a question that came to mind in relation to your discussion of the representation of the female body by Condit is how the film's body is or is not reflecting or commenting on what you've described? As you point out, Condit dissolves images of the actresses with decaying flesh, while also presenting Arthur (often) as an anthropomorphized man-beast. The short itself similarly seems to be using mixed media formats (video and intercut film stock shots) to produce a sort of "Frankenstein-ed" whole. So, is the film's body replicating the female body in the film, the male, both, or existing in its own aesthetic register?
Wow, I love this movie's
Wow, I love this movie's soundtrack.
I'd love to read your analysis of the film's surrealism, especially in conversation with a film like Vera Chytilova's Daisies. The two main characters reminded me of the Maries in that film.
Add new comment