Oxygen hails from one of the most consistent horror directors alive, Alexandre Aja, so it’s no surprise to see it lightly tinged with darkness and terror. Responsible for two complete front-to-back masterpieces, 2003’s High Tension and 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes, Aja proves here once more that he’s a master of suspense. The Netflix sci-fi thriller unfolds the exciting action through the lens of our determined lead, Elizabeth (Inglourious Basterds’ Melanie Laurent) as she wakes up in a cryogenic chamber. With absolutely zero recollection as to how she got there, Elizabeth must piece together her past in order to survive. As her oxygen begins to run out, Elizabeth races against the clock to resolve her situation within a 72 minute time frame, and a 0% probability of survival.
The limited setting brings obvious comparisons to other movies like Buried and 127 Hours, where we find our lead trapped and low on chances for survival. Unlike both of those, Aja manages to make Oxygen a visually enticing delight. Horrifying scenes of grotesque curiosity, like one where Elizabeth sees rotting lab rats everywhere, keep the pace from ever slowing for a second. My personal favorite thing about Oxygen is the way we follow Elizabeth as her sanity slips away. The visceral opening as she tears through a cocoon encasing her is the perfect introduction to her character.
How much is in Elizabeth’s head? What is the truth? Why is she trapped here? The mystery element is so strong and captivating that I guarantee if you start Oxygen, you’ll have to continue to see how it ends. To discuss any of the specifics of Elizabeth’s journey would be to ruin the shocking narrative surprises, and the emotional heft of its largest secrets. Suffice to say, Oxygen takes you on an unforgettable journey that’s well worth it. The time we spend with Elizabeth simply wouldn’t work without the strength of Melanie Laurent. I was rooting for her from the very beginning, fully invested in her story of bravery and determination. This is a decidedly different film for Alexandre Aja, but you can still spy his horror influences in every frame. It takes skill to make a one-woman single-setting into something extraordinary, and Oxygen accomplishes just that. It’s a fast-paced, explosive watch with plenty to discuss long after it comes up for air.
Oxygen struggles for breath on Netflix, May 12th, 2021.