Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you don’t have friends and family at home, grave-dug companions are fine. In The Loneliest Boy in the World, the sheltered and unsocialized Oliver is tasked with making new friends after the sudden and devastating death of his mother. Faced with the threat of institutionalization, he decides that digging a few up (literally) might be his best bet.

The Loneliest Boy in the World stars Max Harwood, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Ashley Benson, Evan Ross, Susan Wokoma, and Ben Miller.

What works in ‘The Loneliest Boy in the World’

First and foremost, The Loneliest Boy in the World looks great visually. The bright pastel aesthetic combined with the dark (and occasionally gruesome) subject matter is a lot of fun – even a little Tim Burton-esque. Admittedly, tying the visuals to the plot of the film gets a little messy; the film tells us it takes place in the ‘80s, but Oliver’s home and zombie family have more of a ‘50s feel. But setting that aside, the efforts into set design and cinematography definitely paid off.

Beyond the distinct aesthetic, the biggest draw for The Loneliest Boy is definitely its cast. Max Harwood is extremely compelling as Oliver. He seems so sweet and awkward and genuine, you can’t help but love him immediately. (This is important, since he soon begins digging up graves and stealing bodies – not necessarily lovable behavior – and somehow as a viewer you’re still on his side.) Oliver’s zombie best friend Mitch, played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin, also wins you over. He’s kind of a jock-type popular kid, which could have easily set him up to be a jerk. But Tiffin plays him with an honesty and earnestness; he’s actually very kind and supportive of Oliver.

Beyond the leads, I also want to give a special shout out to the gravediggers Doug (Alex Murphy) and Elliott (Hammed Animashaun), who stole every scene they appeared in. They were the funniest part of Loneliest Boy by far, and really helped me get through this movie that ultimately didn’t live up to expectations.

…and what doesn’t work

Unfortunately, the acting and aesthetic can’t save The Loneliest Boy from just being sort of a drag. Based on the premise of the film, I had high hopes for this one. Great dark comedy potential, with a bit of a fairy tale feel? Sign me up! However, the execution of the actual movie didn’t deliver as I hoped.

Evan Ross and Ashley Benson’s characters don’t seem to mesh with the story. Their background with Oliver isn’t explained very well, and neither is Julius’ obsessive need to prove Oliver doesn’t have friends and needs to be returned to the asylum. It’s clear they’re meant to give the story more stakes and conflict, but you just end up kind of confused as to why they’re around at all.

Overall, the plot of The Loneliest Boy just doesn’t land like it should. The movie leaves you with more questions than you started with, and not in a compelling way. There are moments where you’re not sure if you’re misreading the film or if the story itself misled you down a path to a dead end. (I’m looking at you, Chloe’s fake vampire fangs removed to reveal actual vampire fangs.)

Then on top of it all, the film goes for an ambiguous ending. I don’t mind things being left open-ended, but an ambiguous ending only works if the movie as a whole can be read as going down one path or another. The Loneliest Boy just wasn’t consistent or clear enough to support reading the film one way, let alone two different ways.

Essentially, what we have here is a case of good premise, poor execution. The Loneliest Boy in the World has leads that do great work to ground the film emotionally, but even they can’t raise a lackluster and inconsistent story from the dead.

The Loneliest Boy in the World premieres in select theaters October 14. It will also hit digital and on demand October 18.

We caught the film at Screamfest LA – check out more of our Screamfest coverage here.

Keep Reading: