Time is running out for Liz (Mélanie Laurent) when she wakes in a cryogenic pod to find herself rapidly running out of oxygen. With no memory of who she is or how she got into this situation, she must find a way to survive before her air supply is depleted.
French film Oxygen bears all the hallmarks of a gripping claustrophobic thriller (its premise is even reminiscent of Ryan Reynolds being trapped in a coffin in Buried), and director Alexandre Aja (Crawl) uses his background in horror to generate some effective sequences of tension. However, the Netflix production comes off the rails before it reaches the midway point and crashes into the realms of self-indulgence and parody.
Viewers are introduced to the mysterious protagonist when she bursts through a plastic cocoon that entombs her body. It’s an arduous effort (that’s not without its symbolic significance) that sets the stage for the struggle to come. The lights finally come on, illuminating the confined space alongside the myriad of wires and tubes attached to the woman’s body, and the audience is introduced to the pod’s AI, named MILO (Mathieu Amalric), who informs her of the worryingly low oxygen levels. But he’s not so forthcoming with any other information to help solve the situation.
Laurent carries the weight of the film with ease. With hardly any other characters appearing on screen, it’s she alone who sells the urgency of the ordeal. Moreover, her character is capable and intelligent enough to handle each problem she faces to find a solution. The problem, though, is that many of these solutions are found by discovering the right questions to ask the AI, which is the equivalent of watching someone wrestling with a misbehaving digital assistant – and that’s not as suspenseful as the filmmakers want it to be.
As more answers are revealed, the focus shifts from finding out who the protagonist is to a mystery about a husband who may or may not exist, before arriving at a revelation that takes events in a completely different (but all too familiar) sci-fi direction. The script can’t convincingly join these dots together and the result is an increasingly disjointed and silly viewing experience that doesn’t know where to stop.
The suspense gradually dissipates in this thriller that’s not worth holding one’s breath for.
Oxygen is released on Netflix on 12th May 2021.
Watch the trailer for Oxygen here: