Reclaiming the Female Monster in "Possibly in Michigan"

Curator's Note

“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”[1] 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”[2] 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.”[3]  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,[4] Sharon and Janice ultimately wield “the power to discomfit, the power that is […] to pose a threat.”[5] 

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].”

[1] Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis.  Routledge, 1993, p. 8.

[2] Duckworth, Courtney.  “Laugh at the Face that Eats You: Cecelia Condit’s Possibly in Michigan.”

[3] Lowenstein, Adam.  Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film. Columbia University Press, 2005, p. 19.

[4] Duckworth, “Laugh at the Face that Eats You.”

[5] Mellencamp, Patricia.  “Uncanny Feminism: The Exquisite Corpses of Cecelia Condit.”  Framework 32 (1986), p. 108.


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?

Thanks so much for your feedback, Sonia!  This was one of the films that really inspired me to research female-directed horror, so I'm so pleased to see that others have seen and enjoyed the film as well. 

To answer your first question, I'm doing a bit more research on the film, so I don't have too much of a clear-cut answer in terms of why Condit chose rural Michigan for the setting of "Possibly in Michigan."  I know that Condit likes to set her video works in rural areas, particularly "Beneath the Skin" and "Suburbs of Eden," if I'm remembering correctly.  Condit herself grew up in a similar geographic location, so perhaps this is a familar area that she likes to tease out in her works as a whole.  But, I'm still researching. 

As to your second question - what a nice coincidence, I'm also working on female horror directors in my forthcoming dissertation, and the specific films that I'm working with look at the intersections of horror and experimental filmmaking.  So, I'm actually culling a longer list of experimental-horror films (Condit's work included) as we speak!  The easiest starting point, in my view, is Condit, but I'm also planning to make the case for Tracey Moffat's "BeDevil" as a strong contender for women-directed experimental horror.  A much larger list is brewing (and I'm trying to move along a linear historical trajectory, so even stuff from the silent era is working its way in), so if you're interested in a broader discussion about this I'd be more than happy to have one with you!

Thanks so much, Erica! I love Tracey Moffatt as well and also saw BeDevil recently--I think it's a really strong and fascinating example of this under-studied area of women-directed horror. I hope we'll have a chance to talk more about this in the future!

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?

Thanks so much for your helpful feedback, Jayson!  Condit's work is a little niche at this point, so it's really gratifying to actually watch when you have the chance, as you have. 

I think in some ways that the film is framed from the perspective of a third, unidentified female body, almost situating the audience as a person alongside the two female leads.  I also think that, in many sequences of the film, Condit is situating the viewer along the psychological and emotional; especially since it takes on a more stream-of-consciousness structure, we as the spectator gain insight, and sort of think in the same way and replicate the same affective responses, as those on screen.  I think for Condit, regardless if it's corporeal or more psychological/emotional, the important thing is for the audience to align themselves wholly with women on screen, creating a shared sense of community in trauma and, at the film's end, release/relief from this trauma.  If that makes sense at all!

Thanks so much for your feedback, Nora!  I believe the soundtrack was composed by one of the female leads; it's a very fun throwback to the 1980s, I think! 

I think I may need a bit more space to have a full discussion on the question you've posed here, but in brief: I totally see a really strong connection between Condit and Chytilova's films, especially the anarchistic, destructive behaviors that both groups of female characters undertake in each narrative (I would be interested to see if Condit has named Chytilova specifically as inspiration).  I think one of the main differences though - and it's been a while since I've seen "Daisies" all the way through, so some of this may be wrong - is that in 'Daisies," their behaviors are never caused or justified by some major event.  They seem to want to take part in destructive behaviors - against men, against society - because they simply can, and they find amusement in destruction.  Condit's narrative action is catalysed through explicit, traumatic events - the leads are stalked, and attacked, by the masked figure, causing them to act out.  They still find pleasure in destruction, but it's more cathartic, whereas I suppose Chytilova's leads are more nihilistic, if that makes sense.

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