Though it’s more a low-key psychological drain-circler than horror movie, Australian director Stuart Simpson’s “Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla” is certainly one of the darker, more unusual entries at this year’s Spooky Movie Film Festival (playing tonight at AFI Silver).
Glenn Maynard plays the reclusive, socially awkward Warren Thompson, an ice cream vendor who’s so obsessed with his favorite soap star (Maynard’s fellow “Neighbours” alum Kyrie Capri) that he sets up shop near where she’s filming in the off-chance she gets the urge for some soft-serve. Warren takes incessant abuse from the locals during the day, mainly from a pimp (Aston Elliot) who does his business under a nearby overpass, and at one point from a punk kid who just doesn’t feel like paying. You wouldn’t think this would be the ideal spot for Warren to peddle frozen dairy treats, but it turns out that drug addicts and prostitutes need ice cream, too.
A sensitive, soft-spoken, seemingly benevolent soul, Warren is kind to folks in town and friendly with the cashier at the local postal depot (Michelle Myers). He sticks to a simple routine of driving his ice cream route during the day and watching his favorite soap at night (the show itself is a hilarious parody of daytime TV right down to the theme song). But his fixation with the angelic young starlet seems to intensify after he absent-mindedly backs over his cat in the driveway one morning.
It’s a toss-up whether it’ll go the way of “Me, Myself and Irene” or “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”, but in the meantime, Simpson’s curious comedy/thriller remains steadfastly reserved in wait of Warren’s inevitable mental status change. Maynard is really good at conveying the quiet psychosis of his character and is also effective at morphing into something else entirely: he appears in his own fantasies as a hunky surfer dude who catches his “leading lady’s” eye on the TV show.
But where Warren’s mental fragility becomes alarmingly evident is through a series of daily video diaries that he makes with an enthusiasm so genuine that you just want to give him a hug. “I don’t hate my life”, he says, and at first, we’re inclined to believe him. But then he starts to recount a difficult childhood and some of his intimate history with women: His definition of “girlfriend” consists of a co-ed who begrudgingly gratified him at a party to get back at her boyfriend and a co-worker at a grocery store who yelled at him for staring at her breasts only to have sex with him three times out of some bizarre spite.
When a catastrophic disappointment trips Warren’s switch, “Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla” lurches into something like “Falling Down” in a Good Humor truck. But the lengthy set-up is just a bit too gloomy, and though it’s laced with some dry Aussie wit, I found the film to be more depressing than frightening. Director Simpson and screenwriter Addison Heath have fully fleshed out an intriguing character who’s inherently good but is overwhelmed by demons, and Maynard’s performance is so convincing that I feel compelled to seek out some of his other films immediately. As a story, though, it spends too much time in the doldrums.