Ingrid Jungermann, unlike some of her contemporaries, does not balk at being called a lesbian filmmaker. “I think you should demand to be called a queer filmmaker,” she said. “It’s a badge. I think it’s kind of irresponsible when people are like — ‘I wanna be known as just a filmmaker.’ That insinuates you’re not proud.” One look at Jungermann’s already impressive but still fledgling career, and it’s easy to see where her loyalties lie.
Her breakout web series, “The Slope,” created with Desiree Akhavan while the two were in Ira Sachs’ class at NYU film school, starred the creators as a content-to-be-bitter lesbian couple who bicker amusingly about everything from co-op etiquette to normative gender roles. After developing a cult following online, Jungermann stepped up her game with her next series, “F to 7th,” which saw her character through gender and sexual identity crises marked by razor sharp absurdist wit. The production values skyrocketed, whether or not her budgets did, and her smart writing attracted name talent like Gaby Hoffman, Olympia Dukakis, and Janeane Garofalo.
With “Women Who Kill,” Jungermann has completely outdone herself. Structured to a tee, the script is one of the tightest feature debuts ever written. Set in Brooklyn, Jungermann stars as Morgan, who runs a podcast about female serial killers with her ex-girlfriend, Jean (Ann Carr). When she meets the mysterious and alluring Simone (Sheila Vand), Jean suspects she may be in danger.
A clever riff on the “kill your gays” trope, you can bet Jungermann knows exactly what she’s doing when she toys with the idea of lesbian sex as something potentially lethal. A self-professed stickler for story, Jungermann’s dialogue is naturally witty, but never overpowers the plot by meandering pointlessly (as can so often happen in indie comedies).
“I like structure. I like the little nerdy things that are supposed to happen at a certain time,” Jungermann said. “For people that enjoy films, that’s a little extra bonus. Like when she walks into a tunnel at the beginning of act 2: As she enters the tunnel, she’s literally crossing over a threshold into act 2. I got all the nerdy books, and studied all the stuff, and mapped out things.”
In addition to its well-drawn three-act structure, “Women Who Kill” also happens to look really good. Morgan and Jean’s apartment is all white curtains and sharp bright light, and Simone’s scenes are woody and textured, dark and lurid. Jungermann and cinematographer Rob Leitzell were very conscious of creating two distinct worlds with the juxtaposition of light and dark.
“Jean’s world was day and Simone’s world was night,” she explained. “Morgan’s wondering: ‘Which way do I go? With the mystery and intrigue and lust, or with stability and commitment and light and safety?’ So we played with that in terms of color and wardrobe.”
There are no sex scenes in the film, something about which Jungermann feels strongly. “I don’t really care for all that, I guess,” she said. “How funny would it have been if I made a sex scene in ‘Women Who Kill’? With me in it. That’s gross. It’s not that kind of movie.” She admits it can be frustrating to challenge Hollywood’s ideas about what audiences want to see from a lesbian movie. “How many good sex scenes can you really think of? If you’re going to make a sex scene, it should be uncomfortable and awkward and cute and sexy in that way. I don’t think I’d ever make a hot sex scene.”
Her next feature, which she is developing with “Get Out” producer Sean McKittrick, will feature a sex scene (“But it makes sense”). Though “Women Who Kill” has all the markings of a great genre film, its follow-up is a twist on the traditional rom-com. “It’s satire, ’cause I can’t stay away from making fun of myself,” she said.
It’s clear from watching “Women Who Kill” that Jungermann not only knows her queer cinema history, but celebrates it. While some queer filmmakers balk at labels, Jungermann leans into it. “People don’t wanna be pigeonholed, but you’re gonna be pigeonholed. It’s a sales tactic. Pigeonhole yourself. Use it,” she said. “I don’t wanna make a straight movie. No way.”
She pauses for a second: “Maybe in 20 years when I’m bored of being gay.”
“Women Who Kill” is playing at the IFC Center through August 1.