The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Netflix] - OXYGEN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Netflix] - OXYGEN

Oxygen review
A woman finds herself trapped in a cryogenic unit with oxygen rapidly depleting.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alexandre Aja

Starring: Mélanie Laurent, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi

Oxygen poster

Having spent the past 15 years working in Hollywood, French genre filmmaker Alexandre Aja returns to home soil for sci-fi survival thriller Oxygen. In similar fashion to Rodrigo Cortés's 2010 Ryan Reynolds vehicle Buried, the movie is centred on a single protagonist trapped in a confined box, forced to figure out the mystery of how they got in such a position, and how to escape.

In this case we're at some point in the future, where cryogenic suspension has become commonplace. Our heroine, Elizabeth (Melanie Laurent), wakes up inside a cryogenic medical unit with no idea initially of who she is or why she was put in suspended animation. Where Reynolds used a cellphone with a dwindling battery to guide himself out of his predicament in Buried (a film which Aja appears to acknowledge early on when Elizabeth wonders aloud if she's buried underground), Elizabeth is aided by MILO, a HAL-9000-esque computer built into the unit (voiced by Mathieu Amalric).

Oxygen review

Though MILO is unhelpful in giving Elizabeth the straight answers she needs, it does allow her to make phone calls and access the internet. Using such functions, Elizabeth calls the police, who inform her that they need to acquire a subpoena to force the manufacturer of the unit to hand over the codes needed to unlock Elizabeth from her prison. Trouble is, Elizabeth is using up the unit's oxygen at a rate that MILO calculates only gives her 45 minutes to live.

Given it’s the central hook that gives the film its title, Elizabeth's precarious oxygen supply is never exploited to the nail-biting degree it should. In fact, you'll probably find yourself forgetting about it altogether until MILO chips in every now and then to remind Elizabeth and the audience of how much time she has left. While the movie appears to play out in real-time, it's hard to get a handle on the rate at which Elizabeth is running out of oxygen, as it seems to deplete in arbitrary amounts – it's not so much a ticking clock as a faulty watch.

Oxygen review

With Elizabeth having access to the internet, along with the flashbacks to her life before becoming entombed, Oxygen loses much of the claustrophobic tension its premise initially teases. While having our heroine strapped down makes things more dramatic, the movie wouldn't really be a whole lot different if she were simply trapped in a room with a phone and a PC.

Oxygen suffers from the same central issue as another recent French thriller set in a confined space – Alexis Bruchon's The Woman with Leopard Shoes. Both movies give us a single onscreen protagonist and confine them to a limited setting, and both rely heavily on the use of phones. In storytelling terms, the drawback of their shared approach is that the audience only ever knows as much as the protagonist, which eliminates the potential for suspense. Rather than shouting at the screen to warn Elizabeth of any dangers and doublecrosses we're privy to, we simply watch passively as she attempts to crack the mystery. Said mystery is easy enough to solve for anyone vaguely familiar with the sci-fi genre, so by the halfway point you'll likely be disengaged.

Oxygen review

What made Buried work so well was how it stuck to its guns, keeping its protagonist in a coffin with no access to the outside world aside from his phone, but also because it peppered its tense drama with humour. Oxygen plays its story with a straight face, and its sober tone and lack of emotional engagement makes its real time 100 minutes suffocating for the wrong reasons.

 is on Netflix from May 12th.

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