This self-consciously kooky horror builds both its gross-out laughs and its darker moments through the interplay of two self-consciously ridiculous ideas. Firstly, that someone might feel lonely enough to disinter and ‘befriend’ the recently deceased. Secondly, that those cadavers might be sufficiently stimulated by the experience to reanimate and take on the persona of much-missed family members (at least in the unsettled mind of the grieving graverobber). The result is a surreal tale that aims to blend the corpse comedy of Weekend at Bernie’s with the macabre motifs of a Tim Burton fantasy, but which ends up strangely devoid of life.
Having been brought up by a doting, reclusive mother Oliver has reached adulthood with no real experience of the outside world. Since she died in a macabre accident, he’s been cared for in an institution. His case workers ultimately decide he should try independent living once more. But when he moves back to a home frozen in time in the 1980s, the decade in which he lost his mum, he reverts to his old isolated ways. Urged to 'find friends', Oliver is rebuffed by his peers, so decides to retrieve a new buddy from a freshly dug grave. Convinced that this is the way to go, he returns to the graveyard to build a family (taking advantage of the new internees of a recent plane crash).
Max Harwood is excellent as the lost and clueless Oliver. He’s absurdly upbeat, guileless and completely unable to make informed moral decisions. He knows enough to hide the bodies from inquisitive eyes, but the comedy relies on Oliver being unable to recognise the depravity of his actions. Of his undead family, Susan Wokoma shines as surrogate mother Susanne, while Ben Miller goes for gross as replacement father Frank. Director Martin Owen keeps open the question of whether the reanimated family exist only in Oliver’s fevered imagination. But despite the strong retro design, and a scattering of decent gags, the film’s tone is muddled, the plot is thin, and the script is nowhere near as satirical as its writers would like to think it is.
THE LONELIEST BOY IN THE WORLD is available now on streaming platforms and is released on DVD in December