Tragedy has a way of tearing families apart, and that is the case in Oxenfree, a story about three foster brothers who reunite at their family’s vacation lodge. As expected, their reunion is not a happy one, as old wounds are reopened and differences are brought to the forefront. But beyond that, Oxenfree displays a childlike wonder that you cannot help but enjoy as the three embrace the better parts of their childhoods via the retelling of a ghost story passed down from generation to generation, as well as an epic battle for a makeshift fort. It is definitely a film worth seeing, and a wholesome experience that the entire family can enjoy.
Roy (Paul Vonasek), Benjamin (Timothy R. Lane), and Aaron (Steven Molony) are three foster brothers who reunite following the death of their father. Now this does not start off as a happy reunion, as Roy and Aaron immediately get into an argument regarding Roy taking their father’s old truck without permission. Things come to a head as Aaron attempts to implement several ground rules for the weekend, such as no using their cell phones and no talking about the events that transpired at their father’s funeral (i.e. Roy getting drunk and causing a scene after Benjamin pulled a no-show). Things also become physical when the two discuss their brother Benjamin, and whether he will actually show up for the weekend.
Against Roy’s belief, Benjamin actually shows up. Tensions remain high as the three attempt to discuss their differences in regards to the man who raised them, and it becomes very obvious that Benjamin carries some resentment toward Aaron, who unlike the others is actually the biological son of their parents. Despite a tense first night, the weekend continues as Roy and Benjamin wake up to discovered Aaron missing and a map leading to their childhood fort/imaginary kingdom “Oxenfree.” As the two set out for the new adventure and arrive at their former fort, the differences between the three melt away and they embrace the best part of their childhood. It all culminates in an epic battle for the kingdom, which is mostly comprised of sticks and a toilet throne. But, hey…the way these three do battle, you would swear it was made of pure gold.
However, just as this family appears to be coming together again, another tragedy is looming on the horizon for the three. How will they handle it this time, will they come together or fall apart like the last time?
I did not expect to like this film as much as I did. That is one of the beauties of life, just when you don’t think you can be surprised, something comes along to alter your perception. I must admit that I am guilty of judging this film by its packaging, which appears to have been thrown together in like ten minutes with Photoshop. I can definitely state that is not the case with the film itself, especially the story or performances. The story is grounded in real-world issues that are commonplace in most families, such as the three brothers being estranged following the death of their father, as well as the stigma of being the biological and foster child. Though the film is rooted in reality, it goes without saying that elements of fantasy are a contributing factor to its overall success. The first example of this is the telling of the ghost story passed down from generation to generation regarding a monster living in the woods outside their lake cabin that is afraid of root beer (of all things). Basically, the family’s version of big foot. I know what you are thinking: a monster afraid of root beer…how can anyone be terrified of something so delicious?
The childlike wonder continues with a battle for the imaginary kingdom of Oxenfree, the makeshift fort the brothers built when they were kids. The transition into this fantasy world with kings and make believe creatures is so smooth that it will bring a smile to your face. One moment, everyone is acting like adults and the next thing you know, they are donning salad bowls as crowns and sitting on a toilet throne. Watching these three will make you remember your own inner child, constructing a fortress out of the couch cushions. (I’m speaking from personally experience of course.)
As I mentioned earlier, Oxenfree is an enjoyable experience for the entire family. I can attest to this fact because I actually watched it with my wife and child who loved it. Well my wife, more than my daughter…but, to be fair, unless you are singing about wanting to build a snowman or being rotten to the core, it is almost impossible to get two thumbs up for her. However, this film does get two thumbs up from me as well as my wife. and that’s saying something.