Oxygen (2021) Film Review, a movie directed by Alexandre Aja, and starring Melanie Laurent, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi, Marc Saez, Laura Boujenah, Eric Herson-Macarel, Anie Balestra, Cathy Cerda, Marie Lemiale, Pascal Germain, and Lyah Valade.
When Alexandre Aja directed the terrific 2019 creature feature Crawl, he was immediately deemed a film-making genius. His new French science fiction film, Oxygen, isn’t quite on the level of Crawl but it captivates viewers with its very secretive plot. As it slowly, but steadily, unveils plot details, it becomes like a jigsaw puzzle with the audience trying to put together the pieces and figure out what, exactly, is going on in terms of the plot.
Melanie Laurent from Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 masterpiece Inglourious Basterds sinks her teeth into her role as Elizabeth Hansen, the main character in Oxygen. But, wait. You’re not supposed to know that’s her name going in to the movie. What can be said, however, is that this new picture is, pretty much, a one-woman show and Laurent is more than up to the task of carrying the picture all the way through.
This film opens with a rat in a maze. In fact, rats have a lot to do with the film’s central plot line although, thankfully, there aren’t many scenes of rats until very late in the picture. But, when you do get the big scene with the rats, it’s definitely worth the wait as it will get under your skin and then some.
It’s hard to talk about a film like Oxygen without referring to its plot in very general ways. This is because the joy of the film is enjoying the plot as it unveils the story line piece by piece. Aja’s direction is perfect in that the movie keeps the viewer intrigued and never gives away too much too soon. This keeps the viewer watching as audience members will wonder which way the plot will turn next.
Set in a cryogenic chamber, Hansen has no memory of how she got there. She wonders about her life and her past. The only voice that answers her is that of a computer named MILO (voice of Mathieu Amalric). Any similarities to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey are purely coincidental or are they? Only Aja knows.
Hansen asks MILO to call phone numbers, including the number of the police, to help her discover where she is and how she got there. She, of course, needs to be rescued as there is only a small amount of time before her oxygen will run out; hence the film’s title.
Malik Zidi plays Leo who is seemingly Hansen’s husband. The plot plays out with the twists and turns revealed on a need-to-know basis. Aja wisely doesn’t let the last trick out of his bag until the very end.
Aja’s science fiction film Oxygen reminded me of a Danish film from 2018 called The Guilty where a man answers an emergency phone call from a woman who is in trouble as he tries to help her without being able to see her or know everything about her situation. They both pretty much revolve around one character trying to figure things out and in the case of Oxygen, it’s Hansen trying to help save herself whereas in The Guilty, the main character was trying to help the person on the other end of the phone. I believe The Guilty would be an excellent companion piece to Oxygen.
It’s pretty much impossible to describe the ending of Oxygen in a review like this because it would contain major spoilers. In the most general terms, the ending is very satisfying despite the revelations that are revealed which are complex and disturbing in nature.
This is Laurent’s film from opening to closing and Aja’s direction is, for the most part, first-rate. I think Aja was more on his “A game” in Crawl which kept the adrenaline pumping for its entire running time. Oxygen can have a slow moment or two here and there and that holds it back from being as good as his previous film.
That being said, Oxygen is a sure-fire winner with some great plot twists that will leave us wondering about advances in science and contemplating whether or not some human things (such as feelings and emotions) are worth tampering with. It’s worth seeing.
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