Oxygen (2021) Review
An exercise in sophisticated sci-fi and economic filmmaking, OXYGEN – Alexandre Aja’s follow-up to CRAWL – retains that movie’s fascination with being trapped but spins it in an entirely different direction. While it may be tempting to draw immediate comparisons to the 2010 Ryan Reynolds-starring BURIED, it quickly makes a case for being something completely, intriguingly different.
Awaking and finding herself in a medical cryogenic capsule with no memory of who she is or how she got there, a young woman (Mélanie Laurent) must negotiate with the capsule’s AI (Mathieu Amalric) to solve the critical issue of a dwindling oxygen supply and the longer-term problem of how to remember who she is and how she can escape.
OXYGEN went through a number of potential casts and directors on its way to the screen and it’s easy to get a sense of the the different versions of this film we nearly got and how Anne Hathaway or Noomi Rapace might have influenced the end product but none of those ruminations diminish the sterling work we get here from Mélanie Laurent as she holds the audience’s attention for the duration of the piece with only sporadic audio support from the rest of the cast.
Of course, OXYGEN is one of those movies that you know is hiding a twist or two and knows that you know, so its in the skill of the performances and, especially, the direction that they succeed or fail and it’s here Aja shows demonstrates his skill. Fond of a jump-scare or two, Aja deploys them with judicious skill and frugality here, so when they hit, they hit it out of the park. Christie LeBlanc’s cleverly constructed screenplay unfolds its mysteries in a satisfying way, balancing the overarching story with the intimate life and death struggle of Laurent’s character.
In many ways, OXYGEN shares some similarities with Netflix’s previous space survival thriller STOWAWAY but while both films deal with the deadly effects of a dwindling air supply, there’s no supplementary shortage of drama in OXYGEN.