New to Netflix this week is the French sci-fi thriller, Oxygen (aka Oxygène). The movie – directed by Alexandre Aja – follows a confused young woman who finds herself trapped inside a medical cryo-chamber.
The woman has no recollection of entering the chamber – she merely has brief memories of being surrounded by doctors, which suggest she recently underwent a procedure. She doesn’t remember who she is, what the procedure was, and also doesn’t appear to show any signs of injury.
But the reason why she is inside the chamber is the least of her concerns. Her most pressing problem is that the air supply in the chamber is at 35% and is rapidly depleting.
With time running out, the woman needs to find a way to escape her prison. But in order to do this, she must uncover her identity, as this may provide her with a way to escape her life-threatening predicament.
If this movie sounds somewhat familiar, it is because it shares a similar set-up to the Ryan Reynolds movie, Buried (2010). That film saw Reynolds trapped inside a coffin, he was running out of air, had barely any contact to the outside world, and was desperate to find a way out.
For the most part, Oxygen follows a similar track. Only this time around it is actress Mélanie Laurent who is in a precarious situation, and who is frantically looking for a solution.
The two films share a lot in common, but the good news is that they do head down slightly different paths. So, those who have previously watched Buried, and enjoyed it, will find themselves with a different story in Oxygen.
Oxygen has a touch more story too – although, I must admit, the story isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is. I (mostly) figured out the film’s central mystery within the first 30-minutes, so there were few surprises as events unfolded.
Yet despite working out a lot of the plot ahead of time, I still found myself thoroughly engaged with the picture. This was thanks to Laurent, who kept things interesting because of her stellar performance, as well as some smart direction from director, Alexandre Aja.
Aja managed to ramp up the tension at various points in the movie, often using some fairly simple techniques to achieve this. One such technique involved rotating the camera around multiple times to create disorientation – something which reflected the main character’s mental state and created the suggestion that maybe not everything was as it seemed.
The other plus point of the movie is the way in which it expands beyond its initial premise. As the central character learns more about herself, she learns more about her situation, and in turn learns more about what has led her to become trapped inside her chamber.
This means there is plenty of story to unravel, and even though I jumped the gun when it came to uncovering the story beats, I was still interested in the direction it took. And anyone who doesn’t clock what is going on early doors, will find much to enjoy.
Oxygen is a great little movie. It is not entirely original, but it is very well made.
Like many small-scale films of the past, including Lifeboat (1944), Rope (1948), and the aforementioned Buried, Oxygen proves that tension-filled thrillers can be made on a relatively low-budget. Utilising a minimal cast, and only one location, can really help to drive a narrative, and provide plenty of entertainment along the way.
If you love thrillers, Oxygen is one to watch.