Review: 'Oxygen' a lean and twisty claustrophobic thriller
Courtesy of Netflix
Like the tiny white mouse trapped inside a convoluted maze during the opening title shot, “Crawl” auteur Alexandre Aja keeps the audience on their toes in his latest: “Oxygen,” a thriller cut from the same cloth as “Buried” and “Locke'' where it's set in one central location and the camera never detracts from the main character’s POV. More ambitious than the director’s previous outings, “Oxygen” is a dense, lean and twisty ride that’ll reward those who go in blind. But for the curious few who want a spoiler free taste, keep reading.
The film starts where Mélanie Laurent’s (“Inglorious Bastards”) Elizabeth Hansen awakens in a cryogenic pod, wrapped in a plastic cocoon, unbeknownst of her whereabouts. Hooked to an IV and a device monitoring brain waves and heart rates, one could assume she’s been taken hostage abroad a vessel. Her singular means of communication lies with MILO (voiced by Mathieu Amalric) an Alexa like creation who can access a variety of files - so long as they’re not restricted - to help piece together the situation, igniting a domino effect of detective work for Elizabeth and the audience, but the clock is ticking as the pod was damaged and oxygen levels are depleting with roughly 45-75 minutes before lights out.
Elizabeth’s tension-fueled journey is indeed a nailbiter, despite being restrained to one setting for nearly two hours. Claustrophobic thrillers typically yield satisfying results, primarily because it's easy to root for the protagonist and the filmmakers - with “Oxygen” being no exception - unspool bread crumbs of information over time to keep audiences engaged. There’s missed opportunities in exploring more of Elizabeth’s origin, but Aja doesn’t halt momentum, keeping “Oxygen” moving at a brisk pace in real time.
It helps that Laurent is steering the ship and her performance is a key factor in deciding where the film lands. The actresses’ intuition amid certain sequences can foreshadow an event later, but you must look closely to make the connection. Aja throws hints about hallucinations and how the entirety of “Oxygen” could be one phsychotic break from reality just to mess with audiences' perceptions. Still, the possibilities are endless, and it should keep viewers guessing until the final shot. Of course, this isn’t a new concept, but Aja molds the subgenre around his strengths and anyone who claims they predicted the ending are just lying to you.
Oxygen debuts on Netflix Wednesday, May 12th