Monday, 11 October 2021

Oxygen (2021) - Movie Review

A woman wakes up in a cryogenic pod. She has no memory of how she got there, or even who she is. She has no contact with the outside world, save through the pod’s built-in A.I. MILO. The oxygen levels in the sealed pod are down to a third, and there is no way for her to get out. And… action!

Director Alexandre Aja is once again flexing his high-concept muscle, tapping into some Buried-style isolation horror as the audience essentially goes through the exact same journey as the woman, designated Omicron-267: Trying to figure out who she even is. We spend the near-entirety of the film in that pod right alongside her, with only her hazy memories serving as a look beyond the pod. Mélanie Laurent gives a fantastic performance in the lead here, making for an endlessly empathetic presence and being more than engaging enough to allow being the face that takes up most of the run time.

The film craft on offer here is likewise more than equipped to make the most use of one of the most claustrophobic settings I think I’ve ever covered on here, with Maxime Alexandre employing a lot of creativity in the camera work to emphasise the isolation, the dread, the anxious panic, and even moments of hope, within the situation. The opening shot of a rat in a large maze turns out to be an apt introduction to a film all about movement in a confined space. Credit is also due for Rob(in Coudert)’s tense soundtrack work and Hervé Schneid’s incredible editing, managing to add psychedelic and even biological textures to the visuals (like distorting the frame in-sync with the woman’s heartbeat).

The writing courtesy of Christie LeBlanc piles on the unease of the situation, starting with someone with no memory of who they are and extrapolating from there. It plays with the intersection of memory and personal identity that made genre efforts like Dark City so interesting, adding some more modern flavour like in the scene where she searches through her own social media activity to learn who she is (just throwing this out there: that’d make for a pretty good setup to a screen-capture found footage flick), and it comes to some pretty intriguing notions. Especially when she starts questioning if she can trust any of what’s seeing or hearing.

Where this really wound up impressing me, especially after covering so many films on here that failed at doing precisely this, is how it manages to stack up more and more high-concept ideas on top of each other… and doesn’t collapse. Every new element introduced strengthens what came before, and as more of the narrative is revealed, I found myself being drawn ever further into the film’s world with each passing revelation. While part of that comes from a lot of the concepts being near-and-dear to me when it comes to fiction, and partly because it gets into some rather timely ideas that I genuinely wasn’t expecting to show up here… for the most part, I’m just marvelling at how well all of these pieces are put together.

It is a feature that starts out small in scope and stakes, and slowly but surely reveals itself to be so much bigger. Out of respect for a film that is all kinds of worth checking out for one’s self, I’ve tried to keep spoilers to a bare minimum here, but believe me, this is a truly impressive film and a certified must-watch for fans of survival horror.

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