When I’m sifting through Netflix for a movie to watch, my own wishy-washiness often hinders my hunt. I have no idea what I’m looking for. I know it’s something captivating enough to make me neglect the entertainment-spewing apps on my phone. But that doesn’t narrow it down much, does it?
Oxygen (Oxygène), a 2021 French survival thriller, gripped me from the protagonist’s first strained breath. The flick stars Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, Now You See Me) as a woman trapped in a claustrophobic pod with a dwindling supply of oxygen. Due to Laurent’s central performance, the stunning score and multiple twists, I was fully engrossed in her dire plight.
Oxygen establishes the tension early. Our protagonist, wrapped in strange material while lying on her back, gains consciousness. It’s dark, and a blinking red light illuminates her struggle to break through her creepy second skin. She emerges gasping for air.
Soon, the audience knows a few more things about this blue-eye, blonde-haired woman. She’s locked in a cryogenic pod and will soon be unable to breathe. She’s also lacking virtually any helpful memory about who she is and how she ended up there.
Talking her through her terrible circumstance is an AI called MILO (for “Medical Interface Liaison Operator”), which gives off frustrating vibes akin to an automated phone menu (well, MILO is stubborn about how she phrases questions, but it does assist her in some ways). With the help/non-help of MILO, she desperately seeks a way out of her tight spot.
More perceptive viewers may feel differently, but I began the film as flabbergasted as Laurent’s character about what could have landed her in that pod. The answers come in the form of massive twists.
The mystery keeps viewers invested, as does the spacious sci-fi score and urgent pace.
Then there’s Laurent. A movie entirely about a woman stuck in a futuristic box needs to have a pretty compelling woman in that box. I felt her terror, desperation and anger as she contended with the probability of a horrible death and other unfair aspects of her predicament.
There are a couple of things I didn’t love about this film. For instance, Laurent’s trapped character makes no attempt whatsoever to calm down and conserve her life support (which is of course easy for this viewer sitting in a comfortable living room chair to be annoyed about).
Throughout the film, Laurent’s character sees fragments of memories that don’t seem to help her much beyond one scene close to the very end. And that scene is unceremonious — she needs to find something in the present, and suddenly just remembers it from the past.
But those issues didn’t damper my viewing experience too much. In all, Oxygen did the one thing I always want a movie to do, but can never convey through a Netflix search query: It grabbed my full attention for a full hour and a half. I’d strap back in and do it all over again.