Review: The Horror is Ancillary in “The Ice Cream Truck,” A Small Town Dramedy-Horror Flick
By: J. Carlos Menjivar
Most of us, likely, have fond memories of the repetitive tune that would blare from ice cream trucks as they rolled down our childhood streets. These truck were the unequivocal saviors of summer. The ice cream truck was a nomadic haven and oasis from the heat and a momentary lapse, in reality, yielding nothing but joy.
The film The Ice Cream Truck, however, by director Megan Freels Johnston, will perhaps change the way you perceive these vehicles. In her film, which Johnston also wrote, Mary (Deanna Russo), a freelance writer, moves back to her suburban hometown, and despite her familiarity with the locale. She’s a stranger in a strange land. Although she once occupied this space, she’s been left behind by time, and it is almost as if she is starting completely anew.
Her new home is without furniture. Enter the creepy furniture delivery man (Jeff Daniel Phillips) who lingers in her empty home far longer than anyone could possibly desire. Mary’s husband, still on the west coast, plans to arrive in two days with their two kids, so she’s on her own. For now, the awkward Mary has to navigate the town, and that means run-ins with nosy neighbor Jessica (Hilary Barraford); the heartthrob 18-year old, and recent high school graduate, Max (John Redlinger) who poses a lustful threat to the good girl demeanor of Mary; and of course, last but not least, there’s the Ice Cream Man who seems to stroll down the streets of the town day and night in his pristine vintage ice cream truck. More on that later.
Mary first encounters Max when she’s headed to Max’s graduation party after she’s invited by the hometown welcome committee of Jessica, Christina (Lisa Ann Walter), and Katie (LaTeace Towns-Cuellar)– it’s also safe to assume that they are the town’s gossip mill. As she is heading to the party, Max is leaving with his girlfriend Tracy (Bailey Anne Borders) to take a few puffs from a joint. Mary joins them and then both Mary and Max head back to the party — at different intervals with Mary heading back first — leaving Tracy behind. Once alone the Ice Cream Man makes his move and approaches Tracy who soon becomes the Ice Cream Man’s first victim. The Ice Cream Man is dressed immaculately and looks like he stepped off the set of a 1950s/60s period movie; his good guy demeanor is nothing but a mere red herring for his real sadistic impulses.
What’s fascinating about Johnston’s film is that although it’s classified under horror, The Ice Cream Truck is actually more than just a genre film. It’s a hometown dramedy about a woman returning to her youth, one that, she feels, has long slipped away from her. Mary is not very old– comparable to the trio of women that include Jessica, Katie, and Christina– and as Mary elaborates she had her first kid, now a teenager, at a very young age. In a sense, the titular ice cream truck represents the lack of change we may sometimes anticipate when we return to a childhood location. Max’s flirting is Mary’s real dilemma, and everything else, including the ice cream truck, is ancillary. Max suggests and invokes his services and helps Mary out with her yard, but soon enough, it becomes clear what his intentions really are. He continually show’s up at her home and continues the flirtation through phone text, in an attempt to seduce Mary.
The Ice Cream Truck is more Twin Peaks than it is a slasher flick, but that shouldn’t deter you from watching this impressive second feature from writer and director Megan Freels Johnston. The film is a breeze to watch filled with very good dialogue and a wonderfully bumbling performance from Deanna Russo as the lonely wife who has a two day pass from her responsibilities as a mother and wife. Mary winces and squirms in dire and mundane situations alike and Russo pulls off the sexy, but quirky, introvert type very well. The melodrama here is subdued– unlike David Lynch’s explorations of small town America– and kept under wraps, merely scratching the surface of small town machinations and scandal. The Ice Cream Truck is quite the cinematic feat that will leave you with a thought provoking and engaging finale that you won’t see coming.
From Uncork’d Entertainment, The Ice Cream Truck is now out on VOD and will be playing in Los Angeles at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills, Ca.
Keep the Fear Alive!