Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Megan Freels Johnston
Writer: Megan Freels Johnston
Producer: Megan Freels Johnston, YuMee Jang, Omid Shamsoddini
Stars: Deanna Russo, John Redlinger, Lisa Ann Walter, Hilary Barraford, LaTeace Towns-Cuellar, Bailey Anne Borders, Dana Gaier, Sam Schweikert, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Emil Johnsen
A lonely housewife flirts with temptation in a serene suburban neighborhood haunted by a murderous ice cream man.
While her husband stays behind in Seattle waiting for their kids to finish school, Mary makes an early move to the Midwest, back to the secluded suburban neighborhood where she grew up. The quiet area hasn’t changed much since childhood. Manicured lawns are still dotted by picket fences and pleasant kids riding bikes. But plastic smiles on intrusive neighbors hint at some sort of Stepford vibe going on behind the scenes.
Mary’s white bread boredom gets a break when she is invited to a graduation party for Max, the teenage son of one of the bizarre biddies. Max has a girlfriend his age, but offers Mary a smile, a joint, and a glimpse back in time at opportunities her younger self had.
Mary’s loneliness manifests as temptation when Max gets flirtatious, performing yard work shirtless and sending certain signals with a very clear endgame. Mary can’t tell if she is being seduced by Max or the environment itself, as strange situations continually suggest not everything is as it seems.
Circling the block in the meanwhile is an odd ice cream truck operated by an equally odd ice cream man. Good Humor isn’t on his menu. Murder is. Those who stop for a scoop end up with a knife to the throat instead.
Does it sound like that last paragraph doesn’t fit snugly with the others? That’s because the weirdly titled “The Ice Cream Truck” plays two plots in parallel with conflicting narrative tones, and there is no indication how they might eventually tie together. The movie essentially tells the tale of a married mother teasing the idea of a Mrs. Robinson affair, yet it is intermittently interrupted by scenes of an ice cream man butchering random residents. This makes “The Ice Cream Truck” something like “Desperate Housewives” meets… well, I’m not exactly sure what. The movie isn’t entirely sure either.
“The Ice Cream Truck” is incredibly stagnant as a motion picture, with an out of synch sense of timing. A perfect example is a throwaway scene where food is delivered to Mary’s house. Mary takes the bag and starts signing the receipt. The camera cuts to the deliveryman waiting patiently before Mary hands back the paper and finally closes the door. It is surplus sequences like these that the movie has too many of, and energy suffers significantly because of it.
Another such scene features Mary talking to her family on the phone. Mary doesn’t walk. Mary doesn’t move. There isn’t even a shot of what’s happening on the other end of the line. It is simply Mary sitting still and chatting, without the film attempting to make something cinematic out of the moment.
With this being only her second feature, writer/director Megan Freels Johnston is still learning the language of telling a story with metaphors as a movie. Dialogue is straightforward, often geared toward being either expository or unnecessary, even though it is in service to interpretive ideas. Megan Freels Johnston clearly wants to be experimental and exploratory with her examination of Mary’s psyche, yet can’t communicate her intentions with the tame material put onscreen.
Mary isn’t completely charismatic, although actress Deanna Russo wrings enough from the writing to make her compelling through an effectively understated performance. Russo’s commitment to her character and the director’s sincerity of purpose salvages the movie’s score. Ultimately, “The Ice Cream Truck” is a pretty weirdo effort that probably means well creatively. Unfortunately, that meaning doesn’t make it to the viewer.
As a horror film, “The Ice Cream Truck” isn’t much of anything. The ice cream man is too plain to be positioned as an iconic slasher. Kills come so far out of left field, they feel like they don’t belong with the middle-aged melodrama. In fact, there is often a notion that the movie fights against its true nature of being a psychological character study to include these scenes in the first place.
As a Lifetime Network portrait of a woman at a crossroads reconciling who she once was with who she is now, the film fares marginally better. But by trying to appeal to two types of audiences, “The Ice Cream Truck” ends up satisfying neither.
Review Score: 50