“Oxygen” probably would have been better as a “The Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” episode, as opposed to being stretched out into a movie. Even so, this French thriller – premiering on Netflix – pulls the audience into its claustrophobic world, building toward the resolution of a mystery that, thankfully, doesn’t disappoint.
Directed by Alexandre Aja,whose US efforts have included the 2006 remake of “The Hills Have Eyes,” the French-language film owes much of its appeal to the extraordinary Mélanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds” and more recently Netflix’s “6 Underground”), who dominates the screen for the vast majority of the movie, in what might be the perfect role for these socially distanced times.
Laurent’s nameless character awakens in a cryogenic pod, hooked up to tubes and unsure of who she is or how she got there. Her only companion is a disembodied computer voice, known as M.I.L.O. (Mathieu Amalric from the Bond movie “Quantum of Solace,” in case it sounds familiar), who informs her that her oxygen is rapidly dwindling, meaning there’s an element of urgency in remembering what happened and finding a way out.
Other than fleeting glimpses of what appears to be her past, the action occurs almost entirely within that pod, as Laurent’s character tries to solve the problem, with the knowledge that she possesses providing clues regarding her identity.
The camera spends much of the time up close on Laurent’s face, creating an atmosphere as suffocating as the threat. While the movie (written by Christie LeBlanc) labors a bit in its middle portion as it keeps erecting obstacles, the final sprint manages to be equal parts cerebral and sobering, offering a payoff that makes the trip worth taking.
Saying more risks giving away too much, so trusting a critic regarding “Oxygen” requires a certain act of faith, which mirrors some of the choices presented to the pod’s occupant in terms of conflicting information that she receives.
“Oxygen” won’t quite leave you breathless, but it should leave you thinking – and surprised. For this sort of movie, that’s perhaps the most precious fuel of all.
“Oxygen” premieres May 12 on Netflix.