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The lesbian murder thriller you need to see

We talk to Ingrid Jungermann – director of ‘Women Who Kill’ – about watching 80s horror in suburban Florida and why we need female serial killers

Creator of two critically acclaimed web-series - The Slope and F To Seventh - both of which use sarcasm and satire to tease apart the complexities of sexuality, gender and what it means to find your ‘old-fashioned lesbianism’ has been left behind; Ingrid Jungermann’s first feature film Women Who Kill is a wickedly dry, queer, thriller-comedy. Winning best screenplay at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film centres on Morgan and Jean, two former lovers and quasi-famous true-crime podcasters who live in Brooklyn’s gentrified Park Slope.

Ostensibly, Women Who Kill is a whodunnit mystery. A chance encounter at the local food co-op introduces Morgan to the enigmatic Simone, an intense and eerie figure whose mysterious past is both enticing and dangerous. But as Morgan’s anxiety about her new relationship grows, Jungermann’s story moves into a densely layered narrative about what happens when you let fear and paranoia drive your relationships.

Women Who Kill is not simply a clever, arthouse horror about two lesbian podcasters, it also captures something unique and fundamental about the queer experience – namely that no matter what our age, sexuality or gender identity our desires and first loves are inextricably mixed with fear and shame in a world which largely still views same-sex desire as wrong and unnatural. Just as the queer community wrestles with internalised feelings of shame and fear about who we love and are attracted to, so too does Morgan’s paranoia about Simone threaten to completely destabilise her relationships with potentially fatal consequences.

Ahead of the film’s on-demand release later this month, we caught up with Jungermann to talk about her teenage years spent watching 80s horror in suburban Florida, how she uses queer filmmaking to “parent herself”, and why we need female serial killers.

Talk me through the process of writing, directing and starring in your first feature...

Ingrid Jungermann: It’s quite different from a web-series - the writing process is more of a monster. You have to look at the script as an overall story, a collection of scenes that take you from A to B. With a web-series, each episode is a scene, they don’t necessarily have to connect. As far as production goes, Women Who Kill had a much higher budget, and a 25 person crew. The web-series was out of pocket, it was funded on Kickstarter and had a crew of about 5. During the writing process for this film I was like, “I’m an idiot”, why have I put myself through this. It’s a thriller, so the turns in the script have to keep the audience engaged, and the mystery has to make sense, but then you add the comedy on top, and the romantic love triangle on top of that. I’m happy, now it’s done, but that was a crazy number of themes to pack into one story.

In its most basic sense, Women Who Kill is a satirical thriller. Is there something about that genre that appeals to you?

Ingrid Jungermann: As a kid, I grew up in a small, suburban town in Florida. We didn’t have any arthouse cinemas, we didn’t really have much art at all, so the theatres would only get commercial movies. I’ve got a real soft spot for a great commercial film - there’s something about them I’m just drawn to. My own films are different, I have to find a personal story in there, I’m more of an outsider in that way because of my gender identity and sexuality. The work I make is more reflective of my experience in the world.

What films did you grow up on?

Ingrid Jungermann: When I was a kid, my siblings and I would always run to the horror section of the video store. I was the youngest of three, but we would watch everything (my mom didn’t police it that much), Texas Chainsaw Massacre, that kind of stuff. She was also into Anne Rule’s books, Small Sacrifices, the Ted Bundy story, Jeffrey Dahmer, real 1980s true-crime. Maybe we were a bit of a fucked up family now that I’m saying it out loud! People talk about a new wave of true-crime, but I think it’s always been here. It’s like a romance novel, there’s something about true-crime that’s really pulp in a way…

What is it about horror that appeals to you?

Ingrid Jungermann: I can be quite a neurotic person, so I think seeing stuff like that, in a weird way it makes it so ridiculous that you can step back and say “ok, darkness exists,”  I’m accepting it rather than running from it. I don’t know if I really understand why I like it. Perhaps it’s wanting to see the monster, as opposed to wondering what the monster looks like. Not knowing can be scarier sometimes. It’s kind of similar to how I feel about New York. The city has this crazy energy, and such high anxiety levels, for some reason that makes me feel calmer because the world around me is buzzing at the same level my brain is. Does that make sense?

Did your enjoyment of the genre change as you looked into real-world cases? Researching for the film…

Ingrid Jungermann: Doing the research, and reading about female murderers, it was a different feeling to making ‘genre’. Genre is storytelling, you’re commenting on true-crime, and there’s a lot of satire in the film. But reading about what these women did, and what had been done to them, that made me sick to my stomach. I don’t have any desire to make a film that makes people feel like that - that’s almost torture porn. Genre and satire is a way of dealing with that feeling of sickness. You take the power back, and redefine the victims and perpetrators. If I know who’s going to live and who dies, that’s really empowering.

Are there true crime podcasts, or TV shows that cross that ‘torture porn’ line for you? The amount of detail some series go into about what happened to the victim…

Ingrid Jungermann: Some of them are pretty awful. Law & Order Special Victims Unit, that shows images of these women being raped, and murdered and tortured. You’re like “I get it, we get it, we’re victims.” It’s really frustrating that the messaging continues, the advertising continues, that story is upsetting. If we switch it in some way, and make women angry and violent, we can begin to change how women feel about themselves, you start to challenges stereotypical gender roles.

You mentioned making films that represent your personal experience in some way, are there similarities between yourself and Morgan?

Ingrid Jungermann: Definitely! She’s the parts of myself I’m not crazy about. It was way more interesting for me to create someone who has all these anxieties and neuroses, and this element of self-absorption. I wanted to push myself to face parts of me that I wasn’t too wild about. My relationships were a big inspiration for the film.

Part of what makes it enjoyable is the relatability of her character, her flaws make her accessible.

Ingrid Jungermann: Right! We’ve all been that person in our deepest, darkest selves at times. She says or does things that we’re sometimes too uncomfortable to do ourselves.

Was it a cathartic experience? Writing yourself into her in that way?

Ingrid Jungermann: Absolutely! That’s one reason I make films, for the catharsis of trying to be a better person. It lets me work through the things I couldn’t with my family. We’re not too close, so getting involved in writing and film-making became a way for me to sort of, parent myself. I can tell the story in the way I want, and hopefully give the audience some catharsis too.

Are there people from past relationships of yours that’l recognise themselves in Women Who Kill?

Ingrid Jungermann: It’s funny because this is a compilation of my relationships. I’ve had people text and email assuming it’s about them. It’s kind of awkward, sometimes it’s like “No! That wasn’t you, sorry!” but other times it’s like “Yea, kind of…” Predominantly it’s about my relationship with my current best-friend, my last ex-girlfriend, we were living together whilst I was writing it. We were both working on films at the time - her film was about a couple where one of the duo murders their baby, and mine is a murder-mystery about the fear of commitment.

There’s lots of sharp, dry jokes about what it’s like to live in Brooklyn, and specifically the lesbian scene in Brooklyn…

Ingrid Jungermann: It’s a commentary on the queer community I live in. That community is my family, so Women Who Kill reflects how I’d talk about family - it has annoying elements, but you love them regardless! It’s like, I love this community so much, they’ve basically raised me, but here’s my qualms with you guys. I’m including myself in that too! It only works if you include your own imperfections and problems. 

Do you think viewers will miss some jokes if they’re not part of that community? Certain scenes felt like they were pointing to aspects of the lesbian community you wouldn’t get unless you were part of it yourself...

Ingrid Jungermann: Ha! So there’s this lesbian film festival on a lesbian cruise (I mean, that in itself sounds like the setup for a joke), and watching my film in front of an all lesbian audience, that felt like a return home! Some of the jokes are specifically for them, so it was fun to watch them get those ‘winks’. There are lots of jokes that everyone can enjoy but it’s pretty special watching a screening for lebsians. There are nods to podcast fans too - right from the opening, we have a sponsored ad from the hosts which I think anyone who listens to podcasts will enjoy. The ending too, you understand it differently if you’re a fan of shows like Serial and S-Town.

You’ve mentioned previously that the film is also about what happens when you let fear direct and drive your relationships?

Ingrid Jungermann: Yeah, absolutely. The core focuses on ‘what if you let fear overtake your reality’, which expresses itself as an ‘is she/isn’t she’ mystery. When writing the script I thought about what if I’d do if I let my fears run everything, what would my life look like?

Does that question, what happens when fear overshadows your relationships, speak to the queer experience in some way? In most cases our first relationships, gender-identity or attraction to someone of the same gender - those feelings are shrouded in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety…

Ingrid Jungermann: That’s exactly it, I hope people see that aspect. The intention, absolutely is to spotlight that. As a young person, growing up in Florida, in a religious setting - only after years of therapy or a lot of work can you undo the damage of the message that “you’re wrong, who you love is wrong and how you love is wrong.” We experience first-love, full of fear and darkness. All those feelings are mixed up with what should be a wonderful experience. We carry around this self-loathing and internalized homophobia. In that way Women Who Kill is a dark, romantic-comedy that’s specifically queer.