Culture Trips

Oxygen review – air runs out for claustrophobic survival nightmare | Film

Here is a single-location mystery thriller from first-time feature screenwriter Christie LeBlanc which is more than a bit on the preposterous side. It requires some hefty levels of disbelief suspension and plausibility buy-in. But the excellent Mélanie Laurent (from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) sells it hard, and it’s a rather elegant contrivance, more restrained than usual from this director, the shlock-horror specialist Alexandre Aja.

Laurent plays a woman who wakes up enclosed in a cryogenic hi-tech pod, slightly bigger than a coffin, surrounded by screens and readouts, hooked up to various life-support wires. She can’t remember who she is or why she is there, although she is almost immediately plagued with traumatised flashbacks of being rushed into hospital. Or is she rushing someone else into hospital? She can’t move. She can’t get out. And, increasingly, she can’t breathe. She realises that her oxygen levels will last only around a 100 minutes, the length of the film, in fact, which plays out in real time. And her only friend, the only one who can help her in this claustrophobic nightmare, is the velvety Hal-type voice of the controlling computer, drolly provided by Mathieu Amalric, which in time-honoured style is inscrutable, but with a hint that it knows more and could do more than it is letting on.

It’s a high-concept script that reminded me a little of Rodrigo Cortés’s Buried from 2010, which the camera got up close and personal with Ryan Reynolds, who is buried alive – a metaphor for American involvement in Iraq. In some ways, this is a film for the Covid-lockdown era, although claiming its “oxygen” theme as contemporary commentary would not perhaps be in great taste. In some ways, this works better without the metaphorical reading – as just a far-fetched, but quite ingenious entertainment, with some bold climactic touches.

Oxygen is on Netflix.

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