Murder, metaphors, and modernity in Ingrid Jungermann’s ‘Women Who Kill’

Ingrid Jungermann is taking on the definition of “triple threat” with her debut feature Women Who Kill, as writer, director, and star of the wildly inventive dark comedy. After making a big impression with webseries The Slope (co-created with Desiree Akhavan), F to 7th and Drama, Jungermann made the leap to feature films with a satirical murder mystery-thriller-romcom mash-up (full of black comedy). 

Jungermann plays Morgan, a Brooklyn based true-crime podcaster who finds herself infatuated with a mysterious new girl in town (Sheila Vand) only to find herself suspicious of that mysterious quality. Co-starring a cast of funny women including Deborah Rush, Tami Sagher, Grace Rex, Shannon Patricia O’Neill, and Ann Carr, Jungermann’s made a truly original comedy that leaves audiences on edge.

We discussed pulling off her genre-bending balancing act, challenges of getting a female-led queer film distributed, and why we need to show another side of violence.

Lesley Coffin: I saw the film at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and it took a long time before distribution was announced. Did the harsher elements of the film make it a hard title to sell?

Ingrid Jungermann: There’s the fact that we don’t have any major stars, but there’s also the fact that it’s difficult to sell a film with a primarily female cast, it’s difficult to sell a female queer film. And it’s especially difficult to sell a queer film that isn’t about “being queer” or the sex lives of lesbians. Over this year I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and gone through the experience with my eyes open to the realities of the film industry and how challenging it is not to make a film like this but to get it in front of audiences.

The reason I’ve felt not only the desire but the need to direct my own films is the fact that people in the industry don’t see the value for stories which aren’t just female centric but female-queer centric. I think people assume there’s no audience for this film or the only people that would want to watch it are lesbians. But then time and time again films come out that prove that belief wrong. So I just need to keep making the work and see the industry evolve.

Lesley Coffin: I would describe the film as visually subtle, with most of the humor coming from dialogue and characters rather than a flashy or aggressive style. But I’ve seen the film twice and felt like I could really appreciate the visual choices you made on that second viewing. How would you describe the visual approach you took in this film?

Ingrid Jungermann: I wanted to focus on story and characters first, and let those decisions drive the visual approach I took. But I also wanted the film to feel a bit more cinematic than my previous work. So I did focus on the look of the film but tried to add layers of visual interest. Sometimes a feel like there’s an all or nothing approach, especially in comedies. It’s really about considering the visual approach your film asks for. My story doesn’t call for anything outlandish, but I also don’t want to under-do or over-do things.

Lesley Coffin: What filmmakers inspired you?

Ingrid Jungermann: I always make a list of the filmmakers and films that inspired me while developing a project. Most of the references on this film were films by Woody Allen and The Coen Brothers, and a French filmmaker named Claude Chabrol. I was especially interested in the Coen Brother’s first film Blood Simple. The tone they established on a film like that’s something I’m really interested in exploring.

Lesley Coffin: I love that you included Claude Chabrol because he had a huge impact on filmmakers that emerged in the 80s and 90s, but his work and influence has been overlooked by recent directors. And I can really see his influence on your film’s dark comedy.

Ingrid Jungermann: I’m so glad you mentioned his sense of humor because I completely agree. A film like The Butcher’s very funny and I definitely drew from that comedic approach.

Lesley Coffin: And his interest in relationship melodrama plays into the film’s love story as well. Some of his films are very soapy, playing of off murder and crime elements.

Ingrid Jungermann: Exactly. And he used violence, murder, crime as part of the metaphor for the relationships. I was really inspired by that as well.

Lesley Coffin: When you are presenting an audience with an undisguised metaphor, do you find it easier to use genre as a kind of buffer for the audience between plot and meaning?

Ingrid Jungermann: I do, but the film’s also a comedy. And writing it I realized how difficult it is to make a genre film like that and also write a comedy, because comedies have to comment on conventions, but I’m using conventions to explore the metaphors. So, I think I made it a lot more challenging for myself than it had to be. I’m currently writing a more conventional romantic comedy, but it’s also a satire. But with Women Who Kill I feel like I made it as hard as possible because I was writing three types of movies in one.

Lesley Coffin: And then the setting plays such an important role as well, and you’re using it as a location where people live and built their lives, but you’re also satirizing some of the aspects of Brooklyn that have become exaggerated.

Ingrid Jungermann: I think we need to call ourselves out a little bit. I know some people are tired of Brooklyn based films and TV, but it means we’re going through a moment together. I satirize it, but I like the indie world I’m a part of in Brooklyn, I fortunate to feel included. I think it’s important when we look back at a period in the film to think about what was going on, where they were made, and the social issues they were dealing with at the time. I like that we’re in the midst of a Brooklyn boom, even though there are places like Brooklyn everywhere. Parts of LA or Denver are very similar in their style and way of life.

Lesley Coffin: And you have the emerging popularity of podcasting and the current interest in true crime journalism. Did you write the script after Serial had aired?

Ingrid Jungermann: When I wrote the first draft of the screenplay, they weren’t podcasters and were just writing a book. And I got a note suggesting I give them something that would be a bit more active, and I’d just listened to the first season of Serial. So I made them podcasters, hoping that would be a little more exciting than to see them as writers or filmmakers. I’m not done with podcasting yet.  I think having a little more money and time to see what the world of podcasting consists of.

Lesley Coffin: Had you appeared on a podcast?

Ingrid Jungermann: I hadn’t, but I did talk to some podcasters about how they worked and the office set-ups they had. And I read how Serial technically came together. But it was a challenge to determine how their professional world would look, thinking about how they would set something like this up in their apartment. I tried to combine how real podcasters were working at the time and how I would set one up.

Lesley Coffin: The title makes a big impact when you first read it, because we’re so used to these stories focusing on women as the victim of violent crime, rather than the perpetrator. What motivated you to put that title out there front and center?

Ingrid Jungermann: I’m glad you mentioned that, because I am interested in explore women’s relationship to violence in a similar way we’ve explored men’s relationship with it. I’m working on a script about a kind of female fight club, and I think it’s unfortunate that most of the depictions of violence depicted on screen place women in the singular role of victim. It’s problematic for both men and women because it perpetuates the idea that men are drawn to violence or predisposed to it. And we just keep seeing this image of men as violent aggressor, and women keep seeing images of themselves as victims. And when we do see women in violent roles it’s so often in an act of revenge against a male aggressor. If more films acknowledged women were capable of violence or struggled with controlling their anger, it would help sexism and gender stereotypes.

© Lesley Coffin (7/28/17) FF2 Media

Photo stills courtesy of Diane Russo.

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