Perhaps a more suitable title for this nervy little French sci-fi chiller from Alexandre Aja would have been I'm Slightly Breathless. I Think I'll Have a Bit of a Lie-down
It certainly does claustrophobia and Cronenberg-style body-shock well (the opening sequence may well have you squirming on the couch. Or cowering behind it) but fails to live up to a fine opening premise.
Mélanie Laurent plays a woman who wakes up encased in a kind of cryogenic sarcophagus. She’s hooked up to a variety of tubes, wires and sensors but she has no idea how she got there. Or, indeed, no memory of anything else.
Her oxygen levels are diminishing rapidly, and her only contact with the outside world is via M.I.L.O. (voiced by Mathieu Amalric from the Bond movie Quantum of Solace), a more benign HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, who is just as annoying as Alexa or Siri.
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The comparisons are waiting to be made with effective Ryan Reynolds’ thriller Burial and Dutch movie The Vanishing (avoid the Hollywood remake) but Aja (Crawl, Piranha 3) aims for something bigger. However, what starts as an interesting premise, helpless human pitted against technology and time as she battles for survival, spins off into a repetitive and rather dull high concept sci-fi drama.
It is certainly a movie for our pandemic times and poses existential questions about biology versus technology, isolation, and the will to survive. However, even though it’s played out in real time, Oxygen manages to be poorly paced and repetitive.
Anne Hathaway and then Noomi Rapace were originally set to play the lead, but you’ll be glad Inglorious Basterds star Laurent secured the role. Her close-up portrayal of psychological descent as she scrambles amid the wires, tubes and banks of electronic read-outs is a gripping watch even if the rest of the film loses direction and tension.
It all ends up feeling too much like waiting for 102 minutes on a customer service helpline.
Alan Corr @CorrAlan2
Oxygen is available to watch on Netflix