NEWPORT BEACH FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! As the title implies, there’s a serial killer on the loose in Warren Skeels and Legion M’s latest slasher/horror, The Man in the White Van.
It’s the early 70s in Florida, and a young teen, Annie (Madison Wolfe), is having trouble living as the middle child to the older popular sister, Margaret (Bred Bassinger), and her precocious younger, Daniel (Gavin Warren). For their trouble, Annie’s parents (Sean Astin and Ali Larter) bought her a horse, Rebel, as a gift they regret giving her.
As Annie struggles through adolescence, she notices a white van following her everywhere she goes. It slowly creeps up behind her before speeding past and shows up at odd locations where she rides Rebel. At least Annie has the courage to tell her parents and family, but they write it off as teenage paranoia. The only one who listens to her (sorta) is her best friend Patty (Skai Jackson).
The rest of the film is about Annie trying to suss out her instincts and feelings. Is she wrong? Is she seeing things? Is there a real serial killer waiting to make their move?
Then there’s the gimmick. I want to leave it somewhat of a mystery, but it has to do with time starting in 1979 as the man in the white van is still running rampant doing what serial killers do, and the clock ticks back one year throughout the film until we get to the main timeline.
“As Annie struggles through adolescence, she notices a white van following her everywhere she goes.”
I’m not the biggest fan of horror films… mainly because people die in them. Suspense and tension are on tap throughout the story, and director Warren Skeels plays with it like an orchestra conductor.
The sound design is the star here. When the white van creeps into frame, it’s like nails on the chalkboard. From its appearances in the background, the shine of the headlights, and the surprise assaults on his victims, the sound design is a shrieking tingle up the spine.
The film is full of red herrings, too. Look, a white van is a pretty generic color for a van. Indeed, others have to own one. Yet, every time Annie has “proof” she’s being followed, something unexpected (say teenager-y) undermines her story.
Madison Wolfe shines as Annie. She’s just a teenage girl living under the shadow of her popular sister. She is vulnerable and misunderstood, and we root for her because we’ve been there before.
The time gimmick is an interesting one and sets it apart from other horror films. Future events connect with the main timeline, and the implications of these events ultimately force us to question Annie’s fate.
The Man in the White Van is the perfect primer for someone thinking about getting into horror films but is a bit skittish. The killing is implied, and the gore is off-camera. Yet, the film is all about that uneasy tension that we feel, wondering what’s around the corner or what goes bump in the night.
The Man in the White Van premiered at the 2023 Newport Beach Film Festival.
"…perfect primer for someone thinking about getting into horror films..."