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Mary (Deanna Russo) is a freelance writer. She’s just moved into the leafy suburbs of Somewhere, Anytown, USA. These suburbs are picture-perfect; there’s even a throwback ice cream truck tinkling along as though it drove right out of the 1950’s, the bow-tie-and-apron clad operator within (Emil Johnsen) offering a cheery/creepy wave to all and sundry as he passes by.
Mary has moved so recently that her husband is still across the country in Seattle for an additional week, waiting while their two kids finish up their school terms and concluding their affairs up in the state of Washington. Mary’s unpacking the boxes she brought with her and eagerly awaiting the removal truck which will deliver to her all of their furniture, although her joy at the truck’s arrival is tempered by the leering, almost rapey vibe emanating from the lone furniture removal guy. Still, eff him; Mary has more pressing concerns. She misses her family as one might expect, and she is also in thrall to the tyranny of the blank page, a cursor blinking impassively at her from the corner of an enormous white field on her laptop from whence she hopes a blog all about the challenges of upping sticks and hauling oneself across the country will spring, any second now. I know exactly how she feels.
Mary meets nosey next-door neighbour Jessica (Hilary Barraford), a Desperate Housewives type whose every breezy question is an implied judgment, every beam of acknowledgment a silent condemnation. Jessica takes it upon herself to introduce Mary to her similarly plastic friends Christina and Katie. Welcome to the neighbourhood! Cheshire cat grins up to eleven, everybody! Christina is throwing her son Max (John Redlinger) a high-school graduation party this evening and everybody is going to be there. Would Mary like to come along? To be honest she’d rather not but these WASPs aren’t going to stop buzzing until Mary relents. And anyway, what else is she going to do?
Well, the party is everything Mary hoped that it wouldn’t be, and kinda knew that it would be. She’s plied with vodka, propositioned by a greasy, ponytailed mid-life crisis, and manages to both offend and be offended by Jessica who, upon suggesting Mary have an affair while her husband is still not about, suddenly makes her excuses and skedaddles when Mary reassures her that she’s got a perfectly sturdy vibrator for that. In fact if Mary hadn’t met the affable Max and his girlfriend Tracy upon entering the shindig and succeeded in bumming a crafty toke from them, she wouldn’t have stuck it out for as long as she did. Still, it’s late now and Mary’s off to bed. But… can she still hear that ice cream truck tinkling along, somewhere out there, at this hour? What’s that all about?
The Ice Cream Truck, written, produced and directed by Megan Freels Johnston (whom the IMDb informs me is the granddaughter of renowned writer Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma and Rum Punch – the source novel for Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown – among many others), is fantastic at setting a disquieting and eerie tone, either via the economy of movement from the camera and everything it sees, or via the brilliantly retro (and on-trend) horror-synth score by Michael Boateng. In every frame, Ms. Johnston evokes an off-kilter, almost Burton-esque dream-state, implying something akin to Howard Greenhalgh’s surreal music video for Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun. Everything about this too-perfect suburban idyll seems… wrong. Like, really wrong.
It’s slightly disappointing then to discover as The Ice Cream Truck progresses that, ultimately, there is in fact a little less going on here than first meets the eye, not more. Still, that shouldn’t detract anybody from seeking out The Ice Cream Truck for the beautifully shot, wonderfully atmospheric piece that it is, featuring a fantastic anchoring central performance by Deanna Russo, ably supported across the board but particularly by the likeable John Redlinger and Hilary Barraford, and which hints at possibilities of far more Lynchian terrors to come from this hugely promising writer/director. Recommended.