Many great stories are centered around tight environments. Specifically, within the science-fiction realm, I’m thinking about the Alien film franchise. With nowhere to run and no place hide, an unseen killer lurks out of eyesight and our heroes must constantly think one step ahead of their antagonists in order to survive. The claustrophobia only enhances the fear factor and in outer space, everything is trying to kill you.
That similarly themed storyline is one reason I was instantly drawn to the Netflix sci-fi opus, Oxygen. (The other reason was its star, Mélanie Laurent, whom I adored in Inglorious Basterds.) Written by Christie LeBlanc and directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3-D), this French survival thriller begins as bioform Omicron 267 — a young woman — awakens inside a cryogenic chamber, unaware of her surroundings, how she ended up there or even her name. On the brink of asphyxiation, she must figure out a way to escape before she dies.
Claustrophobic scenarios always fuel my nightmares. Suffocation scenarios are a close second for my scares, as I’m an asthmatic. Combining the two elements brings nothing but bad thoughts into my head. The inevitable circumstances in Oxygen, along with some technical mumbo jumbo and flashbacks as a story device outline the probability for outside help arriving to save the day as low. Very low. Elements of survival and body horror, mixed with identity loss and hallucinations haunt this film to a great effect.
Something very obviously went wrong (which always seems to happen in the best of stories). Difficult choices must be made as our hero must escape her high-tech coffin. And much like the Alien films, killer consequences for our hero are abundant.
Laurent seems to specialize in strong but vulnerable characters. I was rooting for her survival while she struggles in a storyline that kind of parallels the COVID-19 pandemic, eventually feeling topical.
With enveloping lighting, music and mood, I was almost put into a trance watching this film, practically in dreamlike state until my previously mentioned nightmares came to life on the screen. Despite some dubbing issues, the subtitles are a bit off at times, but not enough to totally take me out of the story. After watching Basterds, I was aware of Laurent’s French dialogue, but I was surprised she didn’t primarily speak English here.
Oxygen feels like a throwback film, somewhat similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The special effects look great. The setting looks bleak and the story has a slower burn, but it doesn’t move glacially. The isolation aspect, alone, almost feels familiar, while exploring a whole new frontier in the future. I’m sort of hoping there will be a sequel…
Netflix is building up quite the sci-fi library to be taken seriously by fans of the genre. Earlier this year, The Midnight Sky was released (which I enjoyed) and as of May 12th, Oxygen is currently available to stream. I look forward to seeing more science fiction from the service.
For more info, visit the movie’s Netflix page.