When scouring Netflix for a movie to watch, my own wishy-washy often gets in the way of my hunt. I have no idea what I’m looking for. I know it’s captivating enough to make me neglect the entertainment spit apps on my phone. But that doesn’t limit it much, does it?
Oxygen, a 2021 French survival thriller, grabbed me from the protagonist’s first labored breath. In the film, Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, Now You See Me) plays a woman trapped in a claustrophobic capsule with dwindling oxygen supplies. Because of Laurent’s central performance, stunning score and numerous twists and turns, I was completely absorbed in her dire plight.
Oxygen builds tension early. Our protagonist, lying on her back covered in strange material, regains consciousness. It’s dark and a flashing red light illuminates her struggle to break through her spooky second skin. She comes up and gasps.
Soon the audience will know a few more things about this blue-eyed blonde woman. She is sealed in a cryogenic capsule and will soon be unable to breathe. She also lacks virtually any helpful reminder of who she is and how she got there.
She’s being guided through her dire circumstances by an AI named MILO (for “Medical Interface Liaison Operator”) who emits frustrating vibes akin to an automated phone menu (well, MILO is stubborn about how she phrases questions, but she helps her in some ways). With help/no help from MILO, she desperately searches for a way out of her bind.
More observant viewers may feel differently, but I started the film just as amazed as Laurent’s character at what could have put them in this capsule. The answers come in the form of massive twists and turns.
The mystery captivates viewers, as does the sprawling sci-fi score and pounding pace.
Then there’s Laurent. A film about a woman stuck in a futuristic box has to have a pretty compelling woman in that box. I felt her fear, desperation and anger as she struggled with the possibility of a horrible death and other unfair aspects of her predicament.
There are a few things I didn’t like about this film. For example, Laurent’s captive character makes no attempt to calm down and put her on life support (which, of course, easily annoys this viewer sitting in a comfortable living room chair).
Throughout the film, Laurent’s character sees fragments of memories that don’t seem to help her much beyond a scene near the end. And this scene is straightforward – she needs to find something in the present and all of a sudden she only remembers it from the past.
But these issues didn’t affect my viewing experience too much. All in all, Oxygen did the one thing I always want in a movie but can never convey through a Netflix search: It held my full attention for an hour and a half. I would buckle up and do it all over again.
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