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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Review: Oxygen (Oxygène)

Director: Alexandre Aja

Screenplay: Christie LeBlanc

Year: 2021

A woman wakes up in a cryogenic chamber with no recollection of how she got there or who she is. The cryogenic chamber has an advanced type of artificial intelligence that is her only ally in recovering her memories, which could be critical for her survival. With very little oxygen left in the chamber, the woman is in a race against time to find out why she is there and how to escape.

Seeing Alexandre Aja’s name associated with this movie was the only thing I needed to become interested in watching it. For those who don’t know him, Aja is known for directing movies such as “Haute Tension”, “The Hills Have Eyes” remake, and the recent “Crawl”. This director has been fairly focused on the horror genre, but his first full-length feature was a sci-fi thriller back in 1999 known as “Furia”, so it is interesting to see him go back to his roots (he also returns to his country of origin for this movie) now with a successful trajectory under his belt.

This time, Aja directs the script written by Christie LeBlanc, who makes an impressive debut in this role and puts us along with the protagonist in a cryogenic chamber whose oxygen level is quickly depleting. By having exactly the same information as the protagonist about what is going on, LeBlanc puts on in her shoes as Aja handles the suspense and the claustrophobia. We can’t overlook the excellent work of Mélanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”), who commands the screen since she appears in it and offers an outstanding performance, where we feel everything the protagonist feels.

The main factor in maintaining the suspense is the plot’s structure, where we are slowly discovering who the woman is and why she is there. Although the woman is technically alone, the chamber’s artificial intelligence acts as a second character that helps the dialogues and story flow. With the conversations the woman holds with the chamber, she slowly begins to recover her memories, and it becomes increasingly more apparent why she is there, for which LeBlanc makes excellent use of twists to continually surprise the viewer, supported by Aja’s visuals and Laurent’s great interpretation.

Although this is not a horror movie, Aja offers some disturbing images, and even some jump scares. I think that with the genre so ingrained in his being, he can’t contain himself. As with the reveals through the plot development, these images also come unexpectedly and fulfill their purpose of being shocking. Also, the aesthetic and GCI quality is the best we have seen from this director.

“Oxygen”, also known as “Oxygène” in its natal France, came without much fanfare to Netflix as the most recent work from the director Alexandre Aja, who again uses confined spaces (as with his previous work “Crawl”) but this time takes it to the extreme, and poses as one of the most interesting releases of the year so far. The director strands from horror and goes back to his roots in science fiction cinema but presents some effective winks to the genre and relies on the skills he has developed to create plenty of tension. The plot the movie follows is captivating, relying on surprise reveals and a great performance from its protagonist, which pulls the viewer wholly into the cramped chamber along with her, and that works perfectly.

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