A woman wakes in a cryogenic chamber with no recollection of how she got there, and must find a way out before running out of air.
Alexandre Aja caught my attention when he delivered one of the biggest surprises of 2010, Piranha 3D. A vast majority of viewers expected that film to be absolutely awful, and while I don't exactly love it, I added the director to my list of filmmakers to follow closely. After years of trials and errors, Aja apparently found his great breakthrough with 2019's Crawl. A disaster flick that, once again, people anticipated to be one of the worst movies of the year, and it ended up as one of the very best in the genre, at least in recent memory. Therefore, I was obviously not going to miss Oxygen, a French-speaking film that boasts a highly mysterious premise.
Movies like this make spoiler-free reviews really challenging to put together. This Netflix film possesses dozens of plot twists and impactful revelations that I just can't delve into, so it's tough to share my complete thoughts on the most significant moments of the movie. So, I'll work around the explicit answers to the intriguing questions that ultimately make this film incredibly captivating. Christie LeBlanc offers a fascinating screenplay packed with everything a one-location, claustrophobic, enigmatic thriller should have to be successful. Honestly, it's one of the most well-written scripts I've seen in quite a while within the genre.
For those viewers who hate ambiguous movies, Oxygen is far from it. Every single question raised by the narrative is clearly answered. No viewer will leave disappointed for not understanding hidden meanings or vague themes. However, I can't state this enough: LeBlanc's screenplay holds *dozens* of questions and the same amount of answers. It's impossible to convince everyone in the audience to accept every twist, especially during the revelation-heavy third act. From a specific moment onwards, it's an overwhelming flow of shocking information that might prove too much for some spectators. Nevertheless, most viewers enjoy nitpicking something that isn't present in this film: "movie logic" issues.
If you've seen the film already, you're either going to wholly agree with my latest statement, or you probably think we watched different movies. As usual with this type of problem, it all depends on people's perspective and mentality regarding heavy sci-fi elements or truly advanced technology. In fact, for many audiences all around the world, just the fact that Mélanie Laurent's character is stuck in a futuristic-looking cryogenic pod with a Siri-like AI helping her understand what's happening is already stretching their believability limits. Not everyone can suspend disbelief in the same way, so I won't be surprised if Oxygen receives a more divisive public response.
Nevertheless, I firmly believe this will end up as one of the most overlooked/underrated films of 2021. Aja proves his tremendous talent behind the camera by making an average-length movie inside one of the tiniest places a protagonist was ever stuck in for most of the runtime. Each new block of information about the where, how, why, and when concerning the main narrative is carefully handed to the viewers with *just* the right hints to what's truly going on. Even though the audience is also imprisoned in the same place for almost two hours, Aja and Maxime Alexandre (DP) create innovative, suspenseful manners of keeping the momentum going, never letting the film feel too monotonous or tiresome.
Mélanie Laurent's exceptional performance is one of the most vital elements of the movie. Without her terrific display, it would be extremely challenging to continue to feel invested in the character's mission of finding out everything that's happening to her, including who she is. Her role requires ridiculous emotional range, and Laurent demonstrates all of her immense talent. Technically, the cryogenic pod features impressive technology, some of it created by remarkable VFX. The ominous score by Robin Coudert also brings another layer of mystery and suspense to the already obscure film. Overall, it's a perfect example of how low-budget movies can still be astonishingly well-made.
Finally, Aja and LeBlanc bring several themes to the table, identity maybe being the biggest one. What truly makes us human? Feelings and memories? Physical suffering? It's impossible to dive into this subject without spoiling some of the most shocking moments of the story, but it's only one of many underlying storylines that ultimately make Oxygen a beautiful example of profound storytelling. General topics such as health and politics are also approached, as well as moral dilemmas regarding extremely advanced technology and what humans should do with it. Honestly, it's been three days, I watched two other films meanwhile, and I'm still thinking about this one…
Oxygen is a phenomenal example of one-location filmmaking done right, which will, unfortunately, escape most viewers' radar. Christie LeBlanc's extremely detailed screenplay packs shocking, impactful revelations and plot twists that will leave no one indifferent. Brutal moral dilemmas, surprising discoveries about the mysterious protagonist, and a fantastic one-woman show from Mélanie Laurent keep the slow, flashback-heavy narrative engrossing. Boasting many underlying themes, Alexandre Aja maintains a suspenseful, tense atmosphere with a sense of urgency that never quite leaves the screen. Maxime Alexandre's creative camera work and Robin Coudert's mood-setting score elevate this deep study about human identity without ever feeling too ambiguous. For fans of claustrophobic thrillers with sci-fi elements, Netflix currently holds one of my favorite movies of the year. Highly recommend it.
Wild Bunch, Getaway Films, Echo Lake Entertainment by Alexandre Aja, Christie LeBlanc.
Stars: MÃ©lanie Laurent, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi.
Genres: Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Keywords: isolation attempt to escape computer memory loss doctor oxygen depletion
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