Suburbia has long been a place of both fascination and revulsion for filmmakers. The idealised view of “the suburbs” evokes a vision of well-tended gardens and settled family residences that are a living metaphor for civilised “normality”. What has intrigued many writers and directors is the suggestion that far darker, less “pleasant” things lurk hidden beneath that veneer of everyday ordinariness. The Ice Cream Truck takes the latter approach, attempting to blend elements from the slasher horror genre with a more serious exploration of the themes of ageing, nostalgia and personal identity. It’s an odd amalgamation of cinematic tropes that never properly gels.
Thirtysomething wife and mother Mary moves back to her hometown when her husband accepts a job transfer. While her partner remains in Seattle to see out the end of the children’s school term, Mary sets about the task of preparing their new home on her own. At the same time, she’s struggling to fit in with the expectations of her neighbours and is battling with the writer’s block preventing her from completing her freelance commissions. What makes the superficial and sanitary atmosphere of the neighbourhood all the more surreal is the appearance of a solitary 1950’s ice cream truck, driven by a polite young man with an unsettling persona.
The sense that the truck is out of place and time chimes with Mary’s own feelings of dislocation. Back in the suburbs as a “sensible” wife and mother, she wonders if the excitement and rebelliousness of her youth is now lost to her forever. Feeling impetuous, she makes a series of rash personal decisions: trying to build friendships with the other Soccer Moms in the area whilst revisiting the irresponsible excesses of youth with some of their teenage offspring. As Mary tries to navigate the contradictions of her behaviour, the brutal and bloody intentions of the roving ice cream seller become clear – as he leaves a growing body count in his wake.
As the film progresses, Mary’s sense of disconnection grows, as she is menaced by a creepy delivery driver and comes under the ever closer scrutiny of the man with choc-chip in his freezer and murder on his mind. Things come to a head when, after an ill-advised and icky outdoor sexual fling with a young stud, Mary has to flee for her life as the ice cream killer closes in.
This is the second feature of writer-director Megan Freels Johnston, who is the granddaughter of the acclaimed crime writer Elmore Leonard. While she frames things effectively, particularly in picturing the suburbs as an otherworldly sort of place, the film is hampered by an identity crisis of its own. The character components are OK, but the horror elements feel forced, and the switcheroo attempted in the movie’s finale is a let-down which fails to connect the film’s disparate narrative strands. Deanna Russo does deliver a thoughtful, textured performance as the conflicted Mary and, because of her character’s isolation from the world around her, has to carry large sections of the film alone. But her early-onset midlife crisis unfolds in the context of a slasher movie built around a knife-wielding villain so bland it’s hard to resist the temptation to describe him as “vanilla”.
THE ICE CREAM TRUCK / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: MEGAN FREELS JOHNSTON / STARRING: DEANNA RUSSO, JOHN REDLINGER, EMIL JOHNSEN, HILARY BARRAFORD, JEFF DANIEL PHILLIPS, LISA ANN WALTER / RELEASE DATE: 18TH AUGUST