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Ice Cream Truck, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Look Out! He Has More Than Jimmies!!!"
4 stars

On the surface, “The Ice Cream Truck” may look and sound like a typical VOD mad slasher effort, the kind of thing that most viewers might rightfully ignore—either out of a general distaste for the genre or the sneaky suspicion that they actually have seen it before—with largely undiscriminating gorehounds with a couple of dollars and 90 minutes to spare potentially being the only ones to give it a shot. In fact, there are three wildly different types of movies on display here and while two of them are not entirely satisfying, the third is intriguing enough to make it worth checking out, though the people who might appreciate it the most are the very ones who would be most put off by its horror trappings.

As the film opens, Mary (Deanna Russo) has just moved back to her hometown and is in the process of getting the house ready for the arrival of her husband and two kids in a few days time. Having married at a very young age, Mary has never really spent any significant amount of time on her own and being by herself for just a few days has her feeling somewhat discombobulated, a sensation exacerbated by the attentions of a creepy moving guy (Jeff Daiel Phillips) and some nosy neighbors. Through the latter, she is invited to the high school graduation party for Max (John Redlinger), who is young, hunky and seems to be on her wavelength regarding the combination of oddness and banality that is the contemporary suburban experience. A low-key flirtation develops between the two of them and it quickly becomes obvious that Max is interested in more than working on her lawn or supplying her with grass (neither one a euphemism). While clearly tempted, Mary cannot possibly bring herself to do such a thing—after all, she is very technically old enough to be his mother, though it must be said that one would not immediately pick up on that if they saw them together.

So while all of this is going on in the foreground, more overtly insidious things are occurring in the background thanks to someone known only as the Ice Cream Man (Emil Johnsen), who drives around and sells real ice cream cones and shakes—nothing pre-packaged or store-bought—from the back of his ancient truck. Even though he seems to tour the neighborhood at all hours of the day and night, no one seems to notice his existence. It turns out, however, that he has been noticing them and when Max’s stoned girlfriend wanders away and comes across him, the encounter ends with him luring her into the back of his truck and slitting her throat, possibly for the crime of not knowing what rum raisin ice cream is. Over the next couple of days, a couple more people wind up being murdered and it becomes readily apparent that his storyline and Mary’s will come together with potentially gruesome results during the final reel.

So as I said, there are three different narrative conceits running throughout “The Ice Cream Truck.” There is the straight-up horror film that finds the Ice Cream Man gorily dispatching people and discovering unexpectedly homicidal uses for an ice cream scoop. There is the social satire that observes the weirdness that exists just out of sight of the well-manicured lawns of suburbia. Finally, there is the story of Mary and how she spends a few days on her own as a chance to grapple with the differences between the person she used to be and the one she has become while contemplating succumbing to an infatuation that she knows would be a horrible idea despite its otherwise obvious appeal. The three conceits are so unlikely that some viewers may find themselves pulled into the film simply to see how writer-director Megan Freels Johnston plans on making them all somehow coexist with each other. Truth be told, she doesn’t quite pull it off. The social satire stuff about the creepy vapidity of the suburban experience is profoundly meh, offering nothing that hasn’t already been seen before with “The Stepford Wives” and “Blue Velvet” serving as the most obvious touchstones. As for the horror stuff, it is executed in a relatively skillful and grisly manner and Johnsen is a suitably creepy presence as the Ice Cream Man but the juxtaposition between the splatter and yearning/ennui is so jarring at times that it sometimes feels as if your cat sat on the remote.

The saving grace of the film, as it turns out, is the story about Mary trying to combat her feelings of being at loose ends in terms of her life with solutions that, while attractive enough, will not even begin to help with what is eating her. What might have played out as either a trashy soap opera or soft-core silliness is handled by Johnston in a smart and resourceful manner that largely manages to avoid the expected cliches. Aiding immeasurably is the inspired performance by Deanna Russo as Mary, who is funny, sexy and entirely sympathetic throughout the story largely because she doesn’t have all the answers she needs to help her come to terms with her life. Just as importantly, she and Redlinger create a sense of chemistry between them that is convincing enough so that even the biggest naysayers might find themselves readily understanding Mary’s willingness to at least consider throwing aside her theoretically happy marriage for the cliche of a fling with a younger man that cannot last. Russo’s performance is so winning and engaging, in fact, that even when the film ends on a note that, while perhaps making some degree of sense from a logical standpoint upon further examination, will undoubtedly infuriate many viewers with its seemingly arbitrary nature.

For many viewers, “The Ice Cream Truck” will not be a movie that “works” in any conventional manner, though with all of its wildly disparate elements, it is impossible to imagine how it could have ever worked along those lines in the first place. (The only people who might come away from it totally satisfied are fans of underrated filmmaker Amy Jones, who might look at it as an unexpected homage to her first two directorial efforts, the weirdo slasher film “The Slumber Party Massacre” and the sensitive women’s drama “Love Letters.”) That said, while I never quite got behind the horrific and satiric elements, I really liked the stuff involving Russo’s character and I suppose I even secretly admired the sheer nerve that it must have required to even contemplate including them all in the same mix. The film may not be perfect by any means but viewers who are looking for something a bit different and who are willing to weather some strange tonal shifts along the way should probably check it out.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31708&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/27/17 22:06:45
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