This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
Oxygen is a sci-fi drama, directed by Alexandre Aja, written by Christie LeBlanc, and stars Melanie Laurent as a woman waking up in a cryogenic chamber with no idea how she got there and with limited oxygen supply that is running out very fast. The first thing that came to mind when I saw the premise for the movie was that the obvious comparison to 2010’s “Buried” with Ryan Reynolds, but also the fact that these types of movies have become pretty rare these days and I haven’t seen a good “one location, time running out” thriller in a long time and I miss them; Oxygen then, created an itch I didn’t know I had, then proceeded to scratch it for me as it’s a pretty good movie!
Like with “Buried”, Oxygen is a pretty hard movie to discuss without getting into spoilers, especially since the only points of contention within the movie are towards the end and are about the progression/reveal of the story’s true intentions; so apologies in advance for the generic comments. I’ll start with the best parts of the movie, because they are really easy to discuss. Firstly, Melanie Laurent is one of my favorite actors working today and through this movie she, once again, shows why; as the only presence in the movie, she really needed to carry the whole movie and does so with a subtle and emotional performance. Her character has to deal with a lot of emotions, information she knew but forgotten, new information, and some physical pain as well, so her performance was extremely important in making her character humane, vulnerable, and relatable; needless to say, she goes above and beyond to achieve that, but she gets there in spectacular fashion. Another reason this movie works is Aja; I am familiar with Aja’s work and, although I’m not the biggest fan, I still recognize the name and felt like he can deliver a solid experience. I was surprised by many aspects of the direction, mainly the camera work and the inventive ways Aja uses to deliver something that feels unique; it is, at times, claustrophobic (as one might expect from this movie), but it is also, at times energetic, disorienting, and uses established techniques to great effect (the 360-degree spin was a particular highlight). He also uses his horror background to tremendous effect; in this dramatic thriller, there are two great scares, some really good comedic one-liners (his horror was always more self-aware), and there are a couple of scenes at the beginning and end that made me physically uncomfortable because of the great directing, acting, and sound design – won’t spoil what they are but they are great. Furthermore, the music is brilliant as it is used to great narrative effect (at times), as well as elevating the tension and emotions of several scenes and reveals.
By far the biggest surprise was the writing; as far as I can tell this is Christie LeBlanc’s first movie script and it is a great start. I am not in love as much with the spoken dialogue or what the actual story is, but I was delighted with the visual storytelling and the small details that justify and enhance the overall “typical” story. Obviously, Laurent’s acting, Aja’s directing, Stephane Roche’s editing, and Robin Coudert’s score, contributed tremendously in presenting and executing the concepts, but there is a lot of substance in the themes, a lot of hints and foreshadows about the reveals, and a lot of time given to the character to be “real” and create a connection with the audience.
So, where’s the contention I was talking about? To keep things vague (and spoiler-free), it has to do, mostly, with the actual ending and the justifications of how it got there. I’ve seen this sentiment from a popular Youtuber and, although I disagree, I can see why; I personally don’t put too much stock in real-world logic or the scripts making perfect sense, however I have to admit that I did feel it was getting a bit silly after a certain point. My reason for not holding it against the movie is mostly because it does the work to keep my suspension of disbelief intact (mostly) and in the one occasion I was taken out of it, it got me back in pretty quickly and felt no real disappointment in that. My criticisms are mostly down to the fact that the movie doesn’t leverage the actual chamber as much as I would have liked; it is a genuinely interesting drama with a couple of good scares and comedic one-liners, as well as an “edge of your seat” thriller, but I wished there was a bit more utility to the setting. If it were an apartment the character was stuck in, it wouldn’t be much of a change; quality-wise that’s fine, but it did take some of the excitement out of the premise. Lastly, the movie’s emotional pivot towards a different goal that is set up from the beginning of the movie, still needed more time to get the maximum impact; I vastly preferred the moments when Liz’s goal was that primal human instinct to survive and I felt more attached to her in those scenes. That end goal of survival never changes, but her reasons for being there and who she is and why she wants to survive become clearer and it wasn’t always a hit for me.
It’s been a weird year for Netflix original movies; with the excitement of the (hopefully) re-opening of movie theaters, I’m more open to watching movies that I wouldn’t normally – at least this early after they are released. Alongside my attempts to catch up to 2020 releases (yes I’m still at it!) and the super-charged release schedule of Netflix, I’m pretty neutral on whether Netflix original movies are worth it. Oxygen just feels like one of those movies that shows the benefit of Netflix’s willingness to produce or buy almost anything; it had a lot of trouble getting greenlight and moving forward with production (previous star Noomi Rapace is even named as a producer), and it could have had budget issues or never seen the light of day. But I am glad it did and it got made to be the way it is today; it won’t appeal to all and it won’t satisfy anyone, but I think it’s a GREAT movie with strong performance, writing, directing, and score. Hopefully more of Netflix Originals can match this level of quality (and even surpass it), but also hopefully Aja, Laurent, Leblanc, and every other member of the crew can have more freedom and success in their next endeavors, as a result of this movie, because they certainly deserve it.