"Hottest female serial killer ever?" muses Morgan, the host of a popular true crime podcast. "That's a tough call. Kristen Gilbert had that that whole boring thing going on, but Myra Hindley had great style."
"She did, she really did," agrees her co-host and ex-girlfriend Jean. Sitting in a sun-filled Park Slope apartment, they face each other behind the sleek aluminum facades of matching MacBook Pros. It's a stylish opening for the debut feature from New Yorker Ingrid Jungermann, and sets the tone for a film that is as much an examination of middle-class white privilege as it is a blackly comedic serial killer film.
Women Who Kill is the debut feature from first-time director Ingrid Jungermann (also known for her web series F to 7th), and it's a poised, polished success. Former couple Morgan and Jean cohabitate and present a true crime podcast together from their tasteful mid-century styled apartment. In their spare time, they hang out with their mostly lesbian friends and volunteer at the local food cooperative. It's a world where food must be organic and locally produced; ghost bikes proliferate; and a strap-on must never, ever, intentionally resemble a male phallus.
I had the pleasure of watching Women Who Kill at Belgian queer film festival Pink Screens recently. A scene where Morgan (played by Jungermann herself) inducts mysterious newcomer Simone (Sheila Vand) into their food co-op had the 100-strong audience in fits of laughter. Jungermann has a gift for physical comedy, bolstered by her curiously impassive facial expressions and understated delivery. It transforms lines like "I would like to officially congratulate you on being a new member of the Green Hill Food Cooperate. Happy Food, Happy People" into unexpected zingers.
Morgan and Jean's lives are turned upside down when Simone enters the scene, all inky-voiced and fashionably choker-ed. She seduces Morgan and, for a while, all appears well—despite Jean's ill-defined antipathy towards her ex-girlfriend's new partner. Doubts start to emerge, as is common in many new, overly intense relationships. Is it moving too fast? Is Simone actually a notorious serial killer? The usual.
After being awarded best screenplay at the Tribeca Film Festival, Jungermann is currently in talks for an arthouse release across the US next year. We caught up with Jungermann over the phone from Brooklyn to find out more about one of 2017's most hotly tipped indie films.
BROADLY: I've never lived in Brooklyn, but it felt familiar. Was it important to you to get that sense of a fully realized world?
Ingrid Jungermann: I feel like pretty much all urban places are pretty similar. We're all dealing with similar things. And when you make the heart of your movie a struggle about fear and commitment, then people can relate to that.
Morgan and Jean are just about on the right side of dislikeable—they're entitled and snobby, but we're on their side. Compared to something like Girls, where the characters are so narcissistic and self-unaware, Morgan and Jean come out on top. How did you balance that tension?
I think there's a generational difference here that's important. I really respect Lena Dunham, but when you're talking about women who are closer to 40 than 20, the humor takes a different tone. Some of the newer sort of "hipster comedy" stuff can be a little mean-spirited, whereas I try to put an awareness of my own shortcomings and privilege into all my characters. Every problem Morgan and Jean have is not really that big of a deal.
I loved the dysfunctional relationship between Morgan and Jean. How did you get the dialogue so great? It felt like the bickering of every couple I've ever known.
It's kind of a combination of many relationships I've clearly failed at in some way. In the end, we all move into that bickering. It disturbs me to see couples like that, but we all kind of end up there. At the time I was writing it I was living with my girlfriend, and we lived together as we were breaking up and after we broke up. So it wasn't that hard to pull experience from real life. Lots of people end up living with exes in New York after a breakup to save money. It's a terrible idea but we all do it.
The character of Simone was really interesting, because in lesser hands she'd have just been a bland femme fatale. How did you write the character without resorting to cliché?
For me, Simone represents vulnerability and openness. She's the only character putting herself on the line emotionally. I know people like her in real life and they always lay their heart out and then are surprised when they're trampled on. She's the kind of person who can't quite figure out why she doesn't fit in, and I love that about her character.
For women obsessed with serial killers, Morgan and Jean lead pretty conventional, anodyne lives. Where does the preoccupation with violence come from?
I'm really interested in the relationship between feminism and violence. Why are women always the victims of violence, rather than the perpetrators? Women aren't allowed to just be angry or violent for no reason. I think that's where my interest in female murderers comes from. I think there's a part of all of us that is looking for something to help us feel less tortured about the darkness within all of us, and I'm still trying to work out why it draws me in so much.
How was the experience for you of writing and directing your first film?
It's still such a struggle to get things made if you're not a white dude, honestly. I really feel that. While Hollywood is starting to embrace diversity I have yet to see real change. I'm optimistic, but I'm also soberly aware that's it's going to be an uphill balance for those of us who aren't status quo.