Directed by: Megan Freels Johnston
Cast: Deanna Russo, Emil Johnsen, John Redlinger
Full disclosure: I’ve been aching to see The Ice Cream Truck since the moment I saw the first sliver of media make its way online. I had some preconceived ideas in advance of screening, but I’m always open to having my expectations changed and adjusted, and The Ice Cream Truck, being the fine film that it is, left me constantly altering notions and tweaking outlooks. Inside of 10 minutes it became clear that this is one vehicle I may not be able to handle alone.
The Ice Cream Truck blurs every line imaginable, and that daring approach to storytelling (and filmmaking, to be more precise) is going to leave a lot of people on opposing sides of the fence. On one side, you’ve got those who see the beauty in the picture’s elegant awkwardness and on the other side you’ll probably find those who see the flick as a typical affair with no flair whatsoever. As for me, I’m in the former category, completely, and a strange, ambiguous finale only intensifies the endearing qualities of the flick.
The story really isn’t noticeably original by any means, but the execution is impressive while often innovative, which makes it rather enjoyable to dig into for an hour or so. The story focuses on Mary, a young lady who, returning to her roots, arrives in the suburbs after years away from home – her husband and kids are about a week behind her, so she’s left to become reacquainted with the neighborhood in solo fashion. She encounters a creepy moving man, a disconcerting throwback to ice cream men of the ‘50s and a hormonally charged youngster whose focal interests consist of smoking weed and attempting to shag Mary. But one of these weirdos (at least) isn’t everything he seems, he has a thirst, and the only thing that seems to quench it is fresh plasma.
Yes, you’re spot on in guessing which one of these guys is at the top of the psycho chain.
There’s no need to delve deeper into plot details. You’ve got the gist, so you can hop on that ice cream truck and take the ride. You’ll experience some ghastly violence, some lighthearted suburban exploitation, and the discomfort one can really feel when alone. There are comedic aspects to the film, make no mistake, and most of the laughs are spawned during exceptionally uncomfortable vocal exchanges. However, I don’t think the film is properly branded as a horror comedy. Yes, the picture’s comedic moments are stellar, and yes, they’re memorable, but they’re not an integral part of the story that’s required to push the narrative forward in any way, and the laughs don’t clearly define the characters, either. Interestingly enough, the comedy just serves as a dash of misleading sparkles on a remarkably grim painting.
Let me clear that up just a bit…
Heading into the film I was under the impression that The Ice Cream Truck would be every bit as funny as it is frightening, but I’m both surprised and pleased with the ratio of humor to horror. Writer/director Megan Freels Johnston understands that she doesn’t need to mask intense moments with laughter, and she also seems to understand that comedy can radically alter a terrifying sequence. I can’t tell you how much I respect that. The comedy typically comes in the accentuated sequences of over-the-top dialog, so we’re never able to forget how human these characters are, because they’re flawed, and their flaws don’t always elicit the typical, no-nonsense retort. That’s the right way, in my humble opinion, to approach a story like this.
Before I head outside to catch my local ice cream truck, I will say this: Johnston, with this film, firmly establishes herself as a serious player in this business. She took an awesome cast (major respect to the gorgeous Deanna Russo who does a fine job of carrying the bulk of the story on her shoulders), a limited budget, a rather straight forward concept and an iconic piece of imagery and she transformed all of that into a chilling story that feels uncharacteristically realistic, as American suburbia finds itself dumped on its head… and bashed by an ice cream scooper.
One final note? Watch out for the twist ending. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. No spoiler here, but if you can confidently identify or formulate a meaning to the final shot or so, I’d love to hear your theories!