Producers: Matt Williams, Pat Wintersgill, Piers Ashworth and Ryan Hamilton   Director: Martin Owen   Screenplay: Piers Ashworth   Cast: Max Harwood, Hiero Fiennes Tiffin, Susan Wokoma, Evan Ross, Tallulah Haddon, Hamed Animashaun, Alex Murphy, Jacob Sartorius, Zenobia Williams, Sam Coleman, Mitchell Zhangazha, Nicola Roberts, Carol Anne Watts, Ashley Benson and Ben Miller   Distributor: Well Go USA

Grade: D  

A supposedly kooky horror comedy that’s deader than the zombies who befriend the titular character, this picture by Martin Owen, who desecrated Dickens with his gangland updating of “Oliver Twist” (dropping the “Oliver”), has some cheerily cartoonish visuals (courtesy of production designer Jenny Ray, set decorator Alexandra Mack and cinematographer Håvard Helle), but is otherwise DOA in terms of laughs or scares.

The title character, played by Max Harwood (“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie”), is Oliver (perhaps a nod to “Twist”), a droopy teen who’s recently been released from an institution where he was placed after the death of his mother (Carol Anne Watts).  In a flashback we’re shown that she died when Oliver stumbled over the cord to the television she was watching as she lounged in a backyard pool, sending the set into the water—which in turn launched her skyward, coming down atop a garden gnome on which she was impaled.  (This is played for laughs, mind you.)

Reinstalled at their house, though he marks every day on  the calendar with the injunction “Be Normal,” Oliver spends a good deal of his time watching soap operas and then going to the cemetery to recite what happened on them at his mother’s grave, since she was addicted to them, though he’s also fond of watching “Alf.”  Otherwise he ambles along the deserted beach, naturally drawing the attention of a trio of local bullies (Jacob Sartorius, Mitchell Zhangazha and Sam Coleman) who have little to do but harass him.  But he talks amiably with the cemetery gravediggers (Hamed Animashaun and Alex Murphy) and connects with a fellow oddball named Chloe (Tallulah Haddon) and her mother (Nicola Roberts).

Since the state-appointed psychiatric watchdogs Julius and Margot (Evan Ross and Ashley Benson) insist that, in order to avoid institutionalization, Oliver must socialize and make friends and he finds that difficult to do, he disinters corpses from the cemetery and brings them home to serve as a surrogate family.  He doesn’t go the Norman Bates route and dig up mommy; instead he chooses three victims of a recent plane crash and a local man killed by debris from it.  Boorish Frank (Ben Miller) is the father, ebullient Suzanne (Susan Wokoma) the mother, sassy Mel (Zenobia Williams) the little sister, and loutish Mitch (Hiero Fiennes Tiffin) the risk-encouraging older brother.

The four of them reanimate for some reason—perhaps only in Oliver’s mind, though it appears not—and become his supporters and protectors, even as their bodies deteriorate.  The bullies learn courtesy, of course, and Julius, the therapist who wants to send Oliver back into treatment, is—oh, the irony!—institutionalized himself.  

This is presumably supposed to be an uproarious, satirically sharp take on family values and suburban life, but the laughs are nonexistent and winces outnumber smiles.  Under Owen’s heavy hand Harwood is as impassive and dull here as he was exuberant in “Jamie,” and the rest of the cast are stuck in caricature roles that remain resolutely one-note.  Even the deliberately cheesy “effects”—the makeup by Alice Jones, prosthetics by Mark Coutier and VFX by Rob Treen and Paul Driver—are mirthless.  When you add sluggish editing (Jeremy Gibbs) and aggravating music (ascribed to the group called The Invisible Men) to the mix, the result is a painful watch.

The welcome sign on the road leading to the town where Oliver’s home is located reveals its name to be Hubris.  That about sums up the attitude of those who decided to present this irritating misfire for public view.