We chat with writer, director, and actor Ingrid Jungermann about how murder is the perfect metaphor for love and how cash money dominates the indie film hustle.
The Shallow Pocket Project is our way of getting to know the filmmakers behind the independent flicks that we dig! Check our last chat with Tyler MacIntyre (director of ‘Tragedy Girls’). Special thanks to my fellow Dorks at In The Mouth of Dorkness, especially Brad Gullickson, Lisa Gullickson, and Darren Smith.
Women Who Kill was one of my favorite releases last year. It also made FSR’s Best Films You Probably Missed in 2017. It’s a queer rom-com about serial killers and love. Y’all. Serial murder is a metaphor for love. I know! It sounds troubling. But, I’m telling you, it works big style. We’ll get to that. Ingrid Jungermann wrote, directed, and starred in the film. It co-stars Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, 68 Kill) and Annette O’Toole.
Morgan (Jungermann) and her ex-girlfriend, Jean (Ann Carr), run a podcast called Women Who Kill that explores the lives of female serial killers. When Morgan meets and falls for Simone (Vand) at the local co-op, things get a little dicey as the professional becomes personal and vice versa. In an excellent, if deeply disturbing, performance, O’Toole plays convicted serial killer Lila, who morphs from interview subject to therapist as Morgan loses her way in love.
“The movie was always my screwed up version of a rom-com.”
Before making Women Who Kill, she was working on the web series F to 7th and also The Slope, both of which are defined by their painfully, hilariously dry sense of observational comedy turned sit-com. What makes her an interesting story-teller is that she is perfectly willing to turn her keen observational gaze towards herself and share deeply from her own experience.
She’s no serial killer. At least, there were no unexplained deaths in Winchester, VA when she came to our local Alamo Drafthouse for a screening of her movie. Nevermind my nervous laughter, I’m just going to check the local papers to make sure that statement was accurate. Okay. Haha. It is.
Jungermann is quick to laugh off her serial-killer conceit saying she just wanted to talk about the experience of love. Before any of the queer elements, or politics, or niche audience targeting, she shares she just wanted to make an honest story about the experience of finding love. That’s all there. She shares that at the time she wrote this movie, she was living with her ex (they’re good friends now!) post break-up. We compromise ourselves to live in a relationship and it becomes complicated to disentangle ourselves and form new routines and habits.
In my first watch, I fell in love with the dialogue, the intriguing who-dun-it style plotting, and her terrific characters. All of which shine with the authenticity of personal experience. Still, the more I reflect, the more her commentary on romance and new things is speaking to me. A large part of our chat focused on her sharing her experience of growing up queer and how that informed those larger themes. I don’t want to paraphrase for this explanation. In her words, this is what the movie is about at its core:
“I wanted to kind of explain to people that queer experience of a romantic comedy is never seen because our first love experience deals with darkness.”
When this came up, we were talking about growing up in the South, perusing video store aisles, and the value of representation on the big screen. She shared that she wasn’t brave enough to browse the gay/lesbian aisle. Instead, she would hawk the shit out of the new release racks to grab movies before they were categorized as verboten.
This was something she shared casually that rocked me, personally. I’m a white, straight, cisgendered dude. I’m not unaware of the rampant homophobia in our society, but it is not my experience.
Our first relationships are terrifying because they’re the first times we truly share our self with another person. I can’t imagine the concern of being found out. For me, my worst worry was that people would discover I have emotions. Ah! It turns out we all have them. Phew. For her, she faced serious consequences if outed.
When you can’t show who you are, out of fear of physical or emotional consequences, you learn to moderate what you allow to show. In my estimation, she transformed this crushingly necessary skill into a sort of storytelling superpower.
“Like, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’m not saying I should have watched that shit when I was young. No. I am saying that. I am saying I probably shouldn’t have watched that.”
It’s so valuable to cast such a wide net in what you see. When she was younger, her parents gave her free reign of the video store. Outside of Faces of Death nothing was verboten in their household. For her, that meant seeing some terribly violent movies at a young age that didn’t bother her then (but do now). Through that, she developed a taste for psychological horror.
Her metaphor about being terrified of dating a serial killer and the black comedy of errors that follows is remarkable in its simplicity for capturing this feeling of terror and elation. Movies are a tightrope walk. You have to get your mix of character and politics just right. Jordan Peele crushed this aspect in last year’s Get Out and so did Jungermann.
As the conversation segued into pure filmmaking nerdery, she shared something I think most folks might not appreciate. We were complimenting her on Women Who Kill being nominated for Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards. She pointed out that while it was an honor to be nominated, it was frustrating that so many awards require a film to have been screened in a theater.
Okay, but why is that frustrating?
Awards are a great way to draw attention to a low-budget indie film that can’t afford any marketing. Unfortunately, to even be in the running they more often than not have to shell out their own money. She pointed out that most independent films are being offered VOD-distribution-only deals. Meaning, if the filmmakers want to do any sort of theatrical screening, they have to shell out the cash themselves.
However, if they spend their limited resources on a small theater run to qualify, they probably will price themselves out of being able to afford any new advertising based on an award nomination.
“I took out a shit load of student loans to write my movie. I’m in crazy debt. … This movie didn’t make any money. I didn’t make any money. It is something I’m really proud of. That everybody’s proud of. It had a great run. It got great reviews.”
This is a for-profit industry. I get that. Big studio movies are great. So many of our interesting voices are coming from independent filmmakers or studios. Even still, it’s hard to get a movie as openly queer as Women Who Kill picked up for distribution. Jungermann has a hell of a voice, and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to next. It sure would be cool if someone gave her a couple hundred thousand dollars to do whatever struck her fancy.
What was the weirdest question she got asked on the festival circuit? Spoiler, it had to do with her personal preferences for, erm, playful strangulation. We talk a lot about her direction of Vand and how they used the emotional shorthand terms “Murderer Simone”, “Innocent Simone”, and “Alien Simone” to guide the mood of the scene. Our hour-long chat covered so much more, I encourage you to click on over and check it out. Catch the chat on Podbean or check it out on iTunes.