This movie is the definition of a claustrophobic thriller. sci-fi thriller to talk to you about. It’s coming to Netflix on May 12th, or depending on when you’re watching this it might already be there – the movie I’m talking about is “Oxygen“. A woman wakes up in a cryogenic pod with no recollection of who she is or how she got there. She can’t get out either, which is a problem because she quickly finds out that she’s running out of oxygen. Now, I was immediately intrigued by this film, as soon as I heard about it.
First of all, it’s a sci-fi thriller, so that immediately put it on my watchlist, but to add to that, it’s a bottle movie – you have one character stuck in a single location. Also, “Oxygen” is directed by Alexandre Aja – the man horror fans are very familiar with because of his films such as “Crawl” and “High Tension”, as well as quite a few others. While he can be pretty divisive as a director, and his films ARE often flawed, he always works with interesting ideas and concepts, and I can confidently tell you that this is Aja’s best work to date.
“Oxygen” puts its main character, and the audience along with her, into what is essentially a high-tech box, slightly larger than a coffin, and faces us with survival in confinement. A film like this will always rely on the tension, the sense of urgency, and whether or not the audience is willing to root for the protagonist. It either has your attention or it doesn’t, and in this case it absolutely had mine from beginning to end.
When it comes to tension and urgency, this situation takes the idea of a claustrophobic thriller to a new level. As if being stuck in a cryopod wasn’t enough, nothing gives you the sense of time running out quite like the dwindling percentage of oxygen remaining. As for the protagonist, Liz – she is played by the wonderful Mélanie Laurent, who I’m sure you remember for her role in “Inglourious Basterds”, and watching Mélanie Laurent problem solve and try to survive for a 100 minutes sounds like a great time to me. I’ve always wondered why she didn’t become a bigger star after that film.
Now, I know “Buried” probably immediately comes to mind here because of the similar concept – Ryan Reynolds stuck in a coffin with a cell phone, trying to do everything he can so someone can come get him out. A really good thriller, by the way, watch it if you haven’t yet. But “Oxygen” worked better for me for a few reasons. First of all, there is a mystery element involved. Liz has to navigate the maze of her past and her memories, figure out what’s real and what isn’t before the oxygen runs out.
Her remembering who she is, what’s going on, how she ended up in the cryopod is essential to her survival. Second, there are actually quite a few flashbacks in the film as she tries to remember all of these things, and she also has access to the Internet through the cryopod’s AI.
This eventually ends up really filling in the overall picture of the setting and the situation, which is not something you get in “Buried” at all – you only get Ryan Reynolds in present time the whole movie. I don’t really want to tell you any details about what Liz ends up remembering because I don’t want to spoil anything, but there ARE quite a few twists and turns along the way, and the film eventually gets into the territory that I find fascinating.
I will say, some of the reveals are fairly obvious, and maybe this is because I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi and thrillers at this point, but regardless, I don’t think it ruins the experience. After all, we are focused on Liz, and it’s the way she deals with this personal journey that makes the film so interesting. I also loved that she had a good balance of reason and panic. Sometimes characters in movies like this can be way too much of a mess, to the point of making the most ridiculous mistakes. Or the opposite – you can get characters that deal with everything way too easily because, for some reason, they know everything, and can figure everything out right away.
Liz was right in the middle – sometimes she panicked and made bad decisions, and other times she made good decisions, and that’s realistic. From the visual standpoint, I really liked the look of the film, and most of the effects were great. The director used the limitations of the space really well, and the technology looked really cool – you can see that from the photos and the trailer.
I wish I could talk more about the second half of the film because that is where things get really interesting, but considering that Liz figuring out her past is a key point of this whole story, and this information gets revealed very gradually – I obviously don’t want to spoil anything.
I do have to mention, I was not 100% happy with the ending – a bit more ambiguity would have been a stronger choice, and that’s me talking about the very last shots of the film. I’m actually surprised they were included because there’s a very clear point at the end of the movie where it could have ended, and then it goes on for about 30 or 40 more seconds, really driving this point home, and I think making it way too defined.
Not a huge deal, but a bit more ambiguity would have been my personal preference. Last thing I’m going to say, which is a technical detail about the actual playback: for some reason, when I turn on the movie it defaults to the English dub.
I have no idea why. I don’t watch dubbed versions of foreign language films, specifically on Netflix, but for some reason THAT is what it wants me to watch – an English version of this film. And this IS a French film that’s in French. So, if you are like me and you prefer subtitles, make sure you’re watching this film in the original French, and not just falling for the English. Unless for some reason you DO want to watch the English dub. So, “Oxygen” is a pretty different type of film for Alexandre Aja – it is a one-location, claustrophobic, sci-fi survival thriller, and he absolutely pulls it off.
It’s effective, it’s well-paced, well-executed, it kept me guessing, I was at the edge of my seat the entire time, and I’m giving it a solid 8 out of 10. Definitely worth your time, if you’re a fan of the genre, so check it out on Netflix, and let me know what you think in the comments! And that’s it for this review, I hope you guys enjoyed it!