Review by Jay Bowman
The Ice Cream Truck pitches itself as a slasher film, and if the posters and tagline are anything to go by, it’s being presented as the wonderfully cheesy 80s B-film slashers that go on to develop cult followings years later; they don’t try to remake the genre, they don’t shoot to ask deep questions, and they certainly don’t pretend to be blockbuster films. They’re just fun. And parts of this movie are fun, but the attempt to dabble in realms more serious than “inexplicable murderous old-time ice cream man” leave behind a very confusing mix.
Mary (Deanna Russo) and her family move into a new home in the suburbs, though Mary arrives a week early to get things ready for her husband and two children. After getting a quick glimpse of the ice cream man (Emil Johnsen) and his retro truck, we’re introduced to her neighbors, fellow housewives who, in the vain of “dangers of suburbia” flicks, have nothing better to do than snoop on each other. Mary is invited to the graduation party for Max (John Redlinger), a soon-to-be college freshmen who appears to spend a suspicious amount of time at the gym given his build.
We get the sense that Mary is in immediate danger when a creepy moving man arrives to deliver furniture. Despite ominous music cues and him being, well, creepy, he is in fact not a major plot element and has zero impact on the proceedings. And it’s here where the film’s sense of confusion hits like a ton of bricks. Going forward the actual villain, the unnamed ice cream man, kills people for no particular reason. The first kill is at night, targeting Max’s girlfriend. She’s not put off by the presence of an ice cream truck patrolling the streets at night and meets her bloody end. If after this scene you are eagerly anticipating the twisted back story of the killer and are looking forward to learning of his dark inner workings, that doesn’t happen. Is he an actual ice cream man who just really likes murder? Is he a supernatural entity bent on striking down the wicked while making a little bank on the side selling pistachio and grasshopper mint? We never learn, but that’s okay for two reasons:
First, he’s not really a presence in the film despite being kinda the crux of it. There aren’t many kills in the film and they aren’t executed in a way that most will consider thrilling. They just sort of happen, and it becomes odd that no one notices them. The claustrophobic view we get of the neighborhood suggests it’s pretty small, so surely a string of dead and missing teenagers would raise a few flags? Apparently not. Despite circling the same streets in a truck that plays music, no one seems to think much of the ice cream man.
Second, and more importantly, The Ice Cream Truck isn’t actually a slasher film. Early on it becomes obvious that Max wants to seduce Mary and that Mary sees something of her youth in his charm (and pot, but I digress). The overbearing tension comes from waiting for them to make the fateful decision: will Max really ask her to cheat on her husband? And will Mary do it? A murderous ice cream man can play into that pretty well (a sentence I never thought I’d type out), but he’d need proper motivation. Would it be a cliché if he were punishing wrongdoing with his violence? Yes. Would it have made the movie more coherent? Also yes. It’s because the pieces never click together that I get the sense of a good story but am left feeling empty handed with the final product.
There’s also a lack of consequence to what the characters do. The ending is, to say the least, bizarre, but not in a surreal or “artsy” way. It just seems to nullify the events of the movie itself.
The acting isn’t bad. There’s a lot of pauses in dialog, but everyone plays their roles well. The ice cream man is a great bag of awkward in what few speaking roles he has, usually describing flavors to his soon to be victims or telling them about his dedication to the job. The soundtrack loses its charm pretty fast, though. A warbled synth rendition of an ice cream truck jingle wears thin due to overuse.
Honestly, it’s hard to put together. It’s not entirely two separate movies because the murderer-in-disguise aspect is never developed. The Mary-Max affair could carry the entirety of the film if given more time, but because it shares screen time with the bits and bobs of a slasher piece it feels under developed too. Perhaps more time should have been spent editing the script, cutting out some of the needless conversation or lengthy silences to work in just a little bit more on either side of the plot. Or maybe just remove one plot entirely and run with the other.
The Ice Cream Truck will be released in theaters and on VOD August 18.