Megan Freels Johnston’s second feature is, in some respects, a typical slasher movie: it has a sinister villain who uses knives and other implements to off people—particularly teens who, horror of horrors, engage in sex or even just have lewd thoughts. But it builds no real tension, the slaughter sequences are pretty perfunctory by today’s standards, and the concluding twist vitiates everything that has gone before.
It’s clear, moreover, that Johnston has more on her mind than simply shocking her viewers. “The Ice Cream Truck” seems concerned less with shocks than with painting a woozy, impressionistic portrait of a young wife in a weird version of suburbia who dreams of straying when given the chance—a sort of gender-switch version of “The Seven Year Itch” in which the comedy is blacker than it was in that fifties farce about male temptation. Moreover it’s told in a languid, semi-surreal style that recalls Bob Balaban’s oddball 1989 film “Parents.” That movie, however, is seriously underappreciated; it’s doubtful that such an assessment will ever be made about “The Ice Cream Truck,” because whatever ambitions Johnston might have had for the picture, they aren’t realized on the screen.
As the movie opens, Mary (Deanna Russo) has driven from Seattle to prepare the newly-purchased family house, located in a suburb of some unspecified city identified only as her home town, for her husband and two kids, who are following a few days later. After being nonplussed by the leering moving man (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and interrogated by her intrusive next-door neighbor Jessica (Hilary Barraford), she’s invited to a party by another neighbor, Christina (Lisa Ann Walter)—a bash celebrating the graduation of her son Max (John Redlinger). There Mary connects with Max and his girlfriend Tracy (Bailey Anne Borders), and despite the age difference the boy sees in her a kindred spirit—especially when they share a joint.
Shortly afterward Tracy is killed by the local ice cream vendor (Emil Johnsen), a curiously undemonstrative young man who drives an old truck around at all hours. Not long afterward one of Max’s friends, Nick (Sam Schweikert), will be targeted, along with his girlfriend. Meanwhile Mary will hire Max to do some yardwork, much—it seems, to Christina’s distress—and the two will quickly fall into each other’s arms. The ice cream man notices, and acts.
All of that conforms to standard slasher tropes. The style, however, is off. The long, slow scenes are spineless, generating no suspense. The dialogue is often arch, and the conversations are marked by pauses. The acting is equally mannered, especially by Johnsen but even by Russo, who overdoes being taken aback by what she finds going on around her—and manages to be irritating in the process. Under the circumstances it’s a minor problem that Redlinger is way too old for his role. But even if one is inclined to go along with the movie’s oddity for most of the way, the ending—which explains the pervasively drowsy, hallucinatory tone to some extent but also continues it—is likely to be the last straw.
Given the obviously low budget, production designer John Matlock and cinematographer Stephen Tringali work to fulfill Johnston’s vision, and the editing by Eric Potter certainly doesn’t rush things. Michael Boatening’s score, which emphasizes the truck’s jingling invitation to customers, follows the John Carpenter rule: repeat, repeat, repeat.
However hopeful you might be going into “The Ice Cream Truck,” you’re likely to feel that the picture suffers a meltdown over the course of its ninety minutes, ending with a sort of cinematic shrug that most viewers will find totally unsatisfying.