“The Ice Cream Truck” (2017): Cast, Director Deliver a Sweet Horror Treat

Too many horror movies try to separate themselves from the pack by increasing the amount of blood and gore they throw across the screen, hoping that if the audience is grossed out enough they won’t notice the weakness of the plot or the thinness of the characters.

That’s why it’s such a refreshing experience to watch The Ice Cream Truck, a tightly directed, exceedingly creepy movie that isn’t afraid to use dramatic tension and (for the most part) bloodless terror to put fear into the hearts and minds of its audience.

Written and directed by Megan Freels Johnston (Rebound), The Ice Cream Truck tells the story of a creepy mobile dessert vendor (Emil Johnsen, Framing Mom) who dishes out a bit more than refreshing treats to the people who stop his truck as it cruises like a gigantic metal shark through their suburban neighborhood.

Or at least that’s the surface story, the one depicted on the cool poster designed to get you to buy a ticket and take the ride. Under the surface of The Ice Cream Truck, however, there’s a lot more going on. A lot more.

If you expect what that ‘more’ is to be spelled out for you here, then you can stop reading now. Not only would that spoil the fun of future audiences watching The Ice Cream Truck, but it would be unfair to the filmmakers who have worked so hard to make sure there are no such easy answers behind the terror of The Ice Cream Truck. Instead, they leave you with a lot to think about…once the lights go back on.

A huge part of the reasons for the film’s success is the casting of Deanna Russo (Worst Friends, Gossip Girl) as Mary, a young housewife who is moving with her husband from Seattle back to her hometown hoping her children will enjoy growing up in suburbia. (Whether Mary really had an idyllic childhood in suburbia is one of the mysteries The Ice Cream Truck challenges you to think about.) Home alone for a few days before the rest of her family arrives, Mary tries to hone her nesting skills in their new home but is constantly being distracted by everything from her nosey neighbors, to an exceptionally sinister moving man to the hot high school boy who supplies her with weed with an offer of other services should she be so inclined. Obviously, there’s a lot going on —and we haven’t even mentioned the ice cream truck driver yet — and it’s mainly because of Russo’s compelling performance that we stay on tenterhook as the story weaves its way around. Russo is one of those rare actresses confident enough to let her face and body language do most of the taking; you can tell from an arched eyebrow or the sudden sloping of her shoulders what Mary is thinking and feeling at several critical moments throughout the film. Russo also has a naturalness about her that the camera, and the audience, loves. It’s the reason we are drawn into the story so quickly and so completely.

As mentioned before, Emil Johnsen is extremely creepy as the vendor, but reading that in a review and watching him up on the screen are two completely different experiences. Reading the review doesn’t make you want to run for the exit every time he steps out of the ice cream truck to serve another customer. The rest of the cast is good, although 27-year-old John Redlinger (Gunslingers) comes across as bit long-in-the-tooth to play the high school senior out to seduce Mary before her family arrives.

Good as her cast is, The Ice Cream Truck wouldn’t work as well as it does if Johnston wasn’t as confident as she seems behind the camera. Not only does she give her characters room to breathe in the story, a gift sorely lacking in the over-edited mass market PG-13 horror that floods the market every summer, but Johnston also creates some truly haunting imagery to support the story along the way. Take, for example, the opening sequence, where Johnstone takes us on a tour of suburbia while Michael Boateng’s haunting, minimalist score fills our ears. The way the director lets the camera stay just a little too long on each house, giving us just enough time to create our own story about what is going on behind those seemingly innocent walls, takes you from nonchalance to nail-biting before the story has even begun. That is the sign of a strong director.

The Ice Cream Truck 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

John Black
John Black still remembers his first horror movie, sneaking in to a double-feature of Horror House with Frankie Avalon and a Boris Karloff film he can’t remember the name of but will always remember for giving him his first glimpse of cinematic nudity as one of the actresses moved from the bed to the door without putting on any underwear! (Fond family memory: That glimpse, when discovered by his parents, cased John’s mom to call the theater and yelling at the manager for letting her son see ‘such filth’.) Luckily, John was more impressed by the blood and horror than the bare haunches and quickly became a devotee of the genre.

John has been a professional movie reviewer since 1987, when his first review – of a Robert De Niro film called Angel Heart – appeared in the entertainment section of The Cape Codder newspaper. He’s been writing about film ever since, primarily now as the entertainment editor at Boston Event Guide. Hardly a day goes by when he doesn’t watch at least one movie, which is how he thinks life was meant to be.