Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Plot: A woman wakes up in a cryogenic chamber with no recollection of how she got there. As she’s running out of oxygen, she must rebuild her memory to find a way out of this nightmare.
Review: The word phobia simply means an irrational fear of something. Yet, as someone who is claustrophobic, I feel like being locked in a small space with no escape and no idea of how to get out is as rational as fear can get. If you’re anything like me, Oxygen starts with a scene that will immediately trigger that fear. Not only is this woman (whose name is revealed as the movie goes along) trapped in some type of scientifically-advanced pod, but she begins her nightmare having to break out of a sort of chrysalis wrapped around her.
Alexandre Aja is one of my favourite modern-day horror directors (you can check out my Top 5 here) and if you’ve seen his previous work (High Tension, Crawl, The Hills Have Eyes <2006>) you’ll know the man is a master of building tension and dread. In Oxygen, everything about the way the first and second acts of this movie not only plays on your fears of being buried alive or trapped in an enclosed space, but it also puts you squarely in that space with French actress Melanie Laurent. If you find her somewhat familiar, it may be for her roles in Inglourious Basterds and Now You See Me. Laurent does a stellar job of making you feel her fear, frustration, anger, and drive to survive what seems like an unwinnable situation. I was so invested in her, I found myself doing that thing we sometimes do where you’re talking to the character as if they could hear you, yelling when they do something you think is wasting precious time, or when you’ve figured out a clue to the mystery of it all.
Now while the first and second acts of this movie are well-paced, I feel like the ball gets dropped hard in the final act. There’s a lot going on here in terms of story, but in my opinion it was one plot device too many. While I did figure out some of it early on, they added elements to either pad the runtime or make the mystery deeper than it needed to be. All this did was drag things along, and instead of feeling a sense of excitement or thrills for where things were going I was just waiting for it all to be over. Not exactly the response you want from a movie such as this.
That said, the visuals are beautiful and there’s a lot of deeper philosophy to be found in Oxygen, more than you would usually get in a “buried alive”-type thriller. There are themes of dealing with grief, with a lot of the emotional beats modeled after the stages one goes through after loss. There’s also lots of analogies to birth, death, and even reincarnation, and there’s even moments that one could argue are all about dying itself and what that final journey into the afterlife might be like. Some people say your entire life plays out before you, kind of like what this character goes through as she slowly regains her memories.
Whatever you may take away from Oxygen, it’s a well-made, smartly-directed sci-fi thriller, with a capable lead who does a solid job of carrying the entire story, and an enjoyable twist on the sub-genre (I feel like these types of movies could be their own sub-genre of horror/thriller). It won’t be for everyone, but if small spaces freak you out, it will definitely hit a nerve, or at the very least make you glad you’re not stuck in one right now.
Sommer’s Score 6.5 out of 10
So what did you think of Oxygen? For another sci fi thriller you can check out Featured Writer Alice’s review of Black Box by clicking here. Or for more phobia-related content (glutton for punishment, eh?) you can check out my review of horror anthology Phobias by clicking here.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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