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Oxygen review: Should you stream Alexandre Aja’s claustrophobic thriller?

Melanie Laurent in Oxygen.
Melanie Laurent in Oxygen. Pic credit: Netflix/Shanna Besson

It’s crazy to think that the existence of human life depends on one simple thing. Sure food, shelter, and other things are important but this whole thing called life comes crashing down without oxygen. The new film Oxygen from Alexandre Aja tackles that notion in a single sitting thriller about a cryo patient waking up with her air dwindling slowly.

The last time we saw Alexandre Aja behind the wheel of a horror film was with 2019’s Crawl. That film was pure horror mayhem and surprisingly more fun than it had any right to be.

Does Alexandre Aja’s new film Oxygen bring the same energy as Crawl? Here is our full review of the Netflix sci-fi thriller.

Oxygen review

The film written by Christie Leblanc centers on a woman (Melanie Laurent) who wakes up from cryogenic sleep, trapped inside a pod, not remembering who she is or how she arrived in the cryo-pod. The amnesia-laced woman discovers she is strapped in with IVs and a harness belt around her waist. And inside the unit is an AI companion to assist her named Milo, who refers to her as Omicron 267.

Adding to her list of problems, the oxygen inside her pod sits at 35 percent, and whatever has caused her to wake up, has made her oxygen supply begin to drop before her newly-awakened eyes.

With only minutes to spare, she must find a way to solve the issue of breathing by solving the mystery of herself.

The biggest comparison Oxygen will face is the Ryan Reynolds film Buried. This film approaches the same high concept of a one-person show while being filmed in a tuna can setting, but benefits more from having a lead performer in Melanie Laurent.

Image of Milo from Oxygen.
Image of Milo from Oxygen. Pic credit: Netflix/Shanna Besson

Laurent, who is most well-known from Inglourious Basterds as Shosanna, gives the suspense an emotional weight that transcends its gimmicky approach. She’s a tremendous actress and can communicate sadness and anxiety in such a way that Reynolds could only try to achieve. That said, Buried is still a fun film.

Moreso, Oxygen handles its mysteries and story reveals a tad more confidently than Buried. Giving satisfying and unpredictable payoffs at every turn. Well, most of the reveals are unpredictable, except one. But discussing that would involve major spoilers.

The interesting part about this take on this high concept is that Leblanc’s script is riddled with themes about grief. Without saying too much, her memories have nuggets of narrative involving loss and moving on. And one can probably find a metaphor here about life and death (possibly even the afterlife?).

It’s this kind of story building that catapults the film beyond just a standard one-location gimmick.

Fans of Aja will find the film unlike his previous work. Aja is usually the type of filmmaker who does not shy away from aggressive violence. He has always been a great storyteller in the horror genre but his grisly approach to gore is not for everyone.

Melanie Laurent as Omicron 267 in Oxygen.
Melanie Laurent as Omicron 267 in Oxygen. Pic credit: Netflix/Shanna Besson

With Oxygen, Aja shows a lot of restraint in the violence department, making this one of the most accessible films he has made to date.

It’s also one of his more heartfelt works in recent memory and one that has an optimistic touch within its thrills.

French musician Rob Coudert (or ROB) lends his talents to the film and gives a score that compliments the spiritual-esque tone of the movie. The film concludes on such a captivating soundscape, writers and creatives everywhere will be playing it to induce their own inspiration.

Oxygen also has a swift rhythm in editing for clocking in at 101 minutes long. For a film that mostly stays inside a cryo-pod for that long, that is not easy to accomplish. But between the writing and the editing, the suspense is never sluggish.

And Oxygen is absolutely suspenseful. Throughout the film, every plot point and reversal creates new barriers for Omicron 267’s survival. And with Laurent’s vulnerable and masterful performance, Aja’s tense direction, and Leblanc’s script – we as the viewer are hoping she does not end up taking her last breath.

Should you stream Oxygen on Netflix?

Oxygen takes the ideas Buried offered and gives them a suspenseful sci-fi twist. And while this film is much better than Buried, that film had to crawl for Oxygen to run.

Furthermore, Oxygen is the most accessible film Alexandre Aja has ever directed. While the film is tense throughout, there is a heartwarming backdrop about loss and grieving for those who have moved on. One can even theorize it’s about the afterlife (but that’s for a different article.)

Between the themes, Aja’s direction, the script, and another fantastic performance from Melanie Laurent, Oxygen is a breath of fresh air for Netflix.

Needless to say, for a Netflix streaming session, Oxygen will satisfy the cravings for most streamers.

If viewers enjoyed this review, be sure and check out other critiques for Netflix such as Jupiter’s Legacy and Stowaway.

Oxygen is now streaming on Netflix.

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