A young mother settling into her new home faces temptations and threats in The Ice Cream Truck, Megan Freels Johnston’s suburban slasher pic. Amid the familiar observations about the creepiness of middle-class conformity and the passing of youth, the sophomore filmmaker appears to be aiming for something a bit deeper. But this truck never gets into gear, and will have a very hard time tempting moviegoers on either large or small screens.
Mary (Deanna Russo) has moved into her new tract house a week before her husband and two kids can take the cross-country trip, leaving her in the unenviable position of making nice with the usual crop of blonde busybodies (Hilary Barraford’s Jessica) and self-medicating moms. Alone and attractive, she’s also an irresistible target for the leering attentions of moving-truck drivers, skeezy bachelors and pot-dealing teens.
That last element gets most of the film’s attention. After being coerced into attending a neighbor’s graduation party for Max (John Redlinger), Mary befriends the young grad and enjoys being treated like one of the cool kids again. He starts coming around to “do some yard work,” and clearly hopes that will soon mean more than taking care of her in the grass (and grass) department.
Meanwhile, the local ice cream truck is not your average Mister Softee copycat. Dressed spiffily in a bow tie and driving what appears to be a ‘30s or ‘40s-vintage truck, our unnamed scoop-seller identifies himself as “an old-fashioned guy.” But he’s actually Johnston’s attempt at creating an archetype-exploiting boogeyman: He lures teens into his truck and slashes their throats; he follows young fornicators into their living rooms and pounds their heads in.
If the villain’s deadpan good manners are less chilling than intended, that’s in line with almost every other human interaction in the film. Johnston has encouraged her cast — especially those playing three local moms — to exaggerate their responses to the point of unbelievability, perhaps in pursuit of a Stepford vibe that never solidifies. Similarly, dead air left in conversations may be meant to unnerve viewers, but is more likely to bore them.
Though promising when played over the title sequence, Michael Boateng’s score grows problematic as the action heats up: Johnston deploys his beedly-boop synthetic cues so heavy-handedly that they provoke laughter near the end, just as Mary gives in to temptation and becomes the killer’s target. The twist that arrives after all the jimmies and sugar cones settle is such a non-sequitur it will provoke more rolled eyes than gasps.
Production company: Look at Me Films
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment
Cast: Deanna Russo, Emil Johnsen, John Redlinger, Hilary Barraford
Director-screenwriter: Megan Freels Johnston
Producers: Megan Freels Johnston, Yumee Jang, Omid Shamsoddini
Executive producers: Hilary Barraford, Sean O. Hughes, Eric Potter
Director of photography: Stephen Tringali
Production designer: John Matlock
Costume designer: Krista Speicher
Editor: Eric Potter
Composer: Michael Boateng