Quirky rom-com meets murder-mystery thriller, complete with observational humour and not-as-conventional dark humour.
Image: Women Who Kill. Via BQFF.
A locked box taunts Morgan (Ingrid Jungermann, web series F to 7th) when she enters Simone’s (Sheila Vand, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) apartment. That’s not a sexual metaphor. Instead, with their romance swiftly jumping from grocery co-op flirtation to a bar date to consummation, it’s an emotional one. The object in question sits just inside the abode’s front door, parading its unreachable status for visitors to see, and becoming a focal point for Morgan’s growing worries. Nothing arouses suspicion like a secret in plain sight, particularly when a commitment-phobic crime podcaster is doing the pondering.
Encouraged by her ex-girlfriend, current flatmate and ongoing fellow female murderer obsessive Jean (Ann Carr, TV’s Red Oaks), it doesn’t take long for Morgan’s feelings towards Simone to switch from infatuated adoration to tentative wariness. And, influenced by her soon-to-be-wed pal Alex’s (Shannon Patricia O'Neill, UCB Comedy Originals) many reservations as well – grounded in Alex’s own unhappiness about being neglected while Morgan enjoys time with her new love – she’s also suddenly reluctant when their head-over-heels courtship starts to steamroll towards cohabitation.
So far, so standard in the world romantic comedies – other than the box, of course. That’s Women Who Kill’s modus operandi from start to finish, playing with the familiar but with an intriguing twist. Writing and directing in addition to starring, Jungermann takes the usual relationship hang-ups, pairs them with a quirky premise and lets easily anticipated observational humour and not-as-expected dark comedy blossom. When it comes to unconventional starting points, serial killer-obsessed lesbian falls for an enigmatic lover does nicely, but all of the above plus a potential femme fatale paramour and an untimely death close to home sends this New York-set offering into eccentric rom-com meets murder-mystery thriller territory.
Appealing as the film’s storyline is, and adept as the feature proves at navigating shifts in tone from amusing to sinister and back again too, it’s minutiae that matters most in Women Who Kill. In an effort that meanders – with purpose, but sometimes in too prolonged a manner – through its artfully composed, naturalistically lit frames, ringing true in its exchanges and observations can’t be underestimated. Conversation topics may veer from 'who’s the hottest female serial killer' to appropriate gifts at a lesbian bridal shower, but Jungermann ensures every line values authenticity. Whether debating seemingly inane subjects with passion, chronicling everyday encounters between still-close yet awkward former spouses, or using banter-heavy small talk as a way to mask real feelings, the feature’s script boasts an attuned ear for the chatter, patter, rhythms and dynamics of real life.
Indeed, Jungermann serves both herself and her co-stars well, dialogue-wise. There’s more to Women Who Kill’s performances than astutely coined words, but they provide a solid framework for the cast to craft engaging portrayals around. Jungermann’s wry air unsurprisingly fares best, though Vand’s already proven allure – as the star of feminist vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – more than serves its purpose. Among the supporting players, O'Neill brings depth to her outwardly abrasive, inwardly vulnerable best friend, while Annette O'Toole (Halt and Catch Fire) relishes her brief screen time as one of the serial killers featured on Morgan and Jean’s podcast.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Women Who Kill
Director: Ingrid Jungermann
USA, 2016, 93 mins
Brisbane Queer Film Festival
March 10 – 19, 2017
Melbourne Queer Film Festival
March 16 – 27, 2017
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level