It’s not always true that you can never go home again. In fact, Mary, her husband and their two children are all relocating to the suburbs of Mary’s hometown. Mary arrives at their new home first, while her husband and kids wrap up things back in Seattle before coming out to join her. Left on her own to face the suburban monotony, Mary makes an earnest attempt to play nice with local suburbanites.
Existing in the suburbs is not what it used to be and is definitely not for the faint of heart, and for Mary it’s the equivalent of fitting a square peg in a round hole. But complacency can be a dangerous thing in the ‘burbs, especially when some dangers are hidden behind a seemingly innocent facade.
Megan Freels Johnston was at the helm for this film, which she also wrote the screenplay for. The vilification of those summertime purveyors of frozen treats and novelties is nothing new. But in this case, the villainous vendor’s presence is a little more sporadic than I would have expected for a film specifically titled, The Ice Cream Truck. This ice cream man’s involvement while unsettling and creepy, is mostly a side note of this suburban tale. The suburbs were originally meant to be a safe haven for those wishing to escape the stress and potential dangers of living in the city. However, the ‘burbs have evolved into outlying settlements of batshit crazy concealed behind closed doors and privacy fences, and the story might have been better served to focus more on that. Or perhaps expand The Ice Cream Man’s part and make it about the unraveling of the community in the face of an unsuspected murderous threat that plagues them.
The story does have a good amount of dramatic appeal in regards to Mary’s return to her hometown and more specifically the way she reacts to living in her new suburban bubble. There is a requisite level of discomfort and awkwardness that accompanies Mary’s attempt to acclimate in a short time, while waiting for her family to arrive. BUT, there was a lack of true horror or suspense, and the killer seemed to be lacking in any significant and readily identifiable motive or purpose. Was it a moral issue that made him a murderer? Was he just psychopath? There are the slightest hints that perhaps he was just provincial or old fashioned, but I would have liked to see more development of the character of The Ice Cream Man. Otherwise it’s just a slow awkward stroll through the suburbs, punctuated with a few murders.
A far as the performances go, they were really pretty well done. Deanna Russo, in the role of Mary, was able to effectively portray a woman who seems uncomfortable with the idea of acclimating to her newly adopted suburban lifestyle. While she wants to maintain civility and remain diplomatic towards the other suburbanites, especially the housewives, she doesn’t want to become associated with a stereotype based solely on her families new chosen place of residence. Another noteworthy performance was delivered by John Redlinger as Max. He exhibits a thoughtfulness and sense of wisdom beyond that of the typical 18 year old high school graduate, and seems to be well detached from the banality of the ‘burbs he grew up in. He also serves as a source of temptation for Mary, while she is briefly separated from her husband and children. As The Ice Cream Man himself, Emil Johnsen may have seemed unassuming and benign to the on screen suburban residents, but he exudes an appropriate level of eerie awkwardness to put the audience on edge. It would have been great to see his role expanded and also more well developed. Lisa Ann Walter, Hilary Barraford and LaTeace Towns-Cuellar make up the trio of suburban housewives (Christina, Tracy and Katie) who act as the neighborhood’s welcome committee upon Mary’s arrival in her new home. They were all appropriately nosy, snobby and disingenuous in their representations of the suburban housewife cliche(?). Jeff Daniel Phillips even makes a brief appearance as a rather creepy Delivery Man, who lingers about in a rather unsettling and presumptuous fashion after making a delivery to Mary’s new residence.
Movies have presented the horrors of suburbia for a long time, and this film had the opportunity to tell the tale of a sinister threat hiding in plain sight as a friendly neighborhood ice cream man. Instead it serves a big scoop of suburban plight sprinkled with a few random slayings. With a run time of just under 1 hour and 28 minutes, including credits, there was still plenty of time to add more to the story and increase the tension and horror. The film felt somewhat incomplete, and the ending left me thinking, “um, okay”. I did like the underlying story of suburban life, but felt there was a real opportunity with this film to make something more bizarre and sinister. Unfortunately, to that end it falls short. 6 / 10
BUT should any of my Little Monsters out there are still interested in giving The Ice Cream Truck a look, it will be released in theaters and on VOD August 18th.