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Oxygen Review

Oxygen Review
7 10

PLOT: Waking up in a cryogenic unit with no memory of how she got in there or who she is, a woman must figure out how to escape before the rapidly-lowering OXYGEN supply runs out for good. 

REVIEW: If you asked me if I would rather wake up to discover I was trapped in a box from which there was no escape and would slowly meet my end or be torn apart by Velociraptors in the middle of Jurassic Park, I would swiftly answer, "Give me the clawed dinos." Uma Thurman being buried alive in Kill Bill and the entirely of Buried with Ryan Reynolds are cinematic moments designed to make my skin crawl – and the new movie Oxygen is right up that same alley. The idea of waking up in a techno-box is horrifying on its own, but factor in some memory loss and being injected with a myriad of tubes and there's a perfect recipe for a panic attack. But it’s also a surefire way to get the audience on the lead character’s side, with anyone watching desperate to see this poor soul bash through the lid and taste the sweet taste of freedom.

Director Alexandre Aja leaps into the scenario with his trademark twistedness, as the movie begins with a woman struggling to break out of what looks like a shrink-wrapped Hefty bag, gasping for air as her escape cuts back and forth between footage of experiments being done on lab rats. Unnerving enough to get the hairs on your arms upright, once she breaks free, Aja begins to shift the tone away from the unsettling images to focus squarely on the woman (Mélanie Laurent) and the tension around her circumstances: She’s trapped in a cryogenic pod, has no idea who she is and what she’s doing there, and the pod is quickly losing oxygen. Eventually learning her name is Elizabeth, her only source of information and direct communication being a HAL-esque A.I. system that, despite the direness of the scenario, seems to only ever want to give her the advanced-space-pod equivalent of a chill pill.  

Aja further embraces the minimalist tension he brought to his last film – the stellar gator horror flick Crawl – and ditches the gore of his other previous films for endless, nail-biting tension, covering various angles of the pod to emphasize just how small and inescapable it is. Writer Christie LeBlanc was smart enough to know that the premise can’t simply be “how does she get oxygen?” and adds onto Elizabeth’s plight by forcing her to figure out not only where she is, but who she is. The ultimate concoction of all this is a blend of survival thriller and amnesia mystery – and while individually those two devices aren’t terribly original – together they make for a sci-fi thriller that puts the lead character in an ever-evolving mystery that keeps the character struggling to figure out what’s next.

oxygen review melanie laurent

But in that balancing act is where the movie has its biggest struggle. During the first act, as Elizabeth wakes up, and the tension is surrounded by the mystery of “Where am I?” Elizabeth struggles to make sense of where she is, clawing at the pod for any kind of information or means of escape, with what little help she gets from the outside world giving her fewer answers, and all as the oxygen clock keeps ticking away. Aja gives the atmosphere a needed sense of palpable claustrophobia, Elizabeth’s fears being very primal and relatable because, again, who the hell wouldn’t freak the hell out after waking up in a bag and inside a futuristic box? But as the story develops, the “Where am I?” becomes blended with the “Who am I?” As deft as Aja’s direction and as thoughtful LeBlanc’s script, this balancing act of tensions doesn’t always remain consistent. While the central mystery of the latter is compelling in its simplicity, the mounting tension of the former becomes less so, as the tension beyond lowering oxygen levels and needing a way out feels more like background noise.

However, if any of that is as compelling as it is, so much of it is thanks to Laurent’s jaw-dropping performance. Having to play a character with no sense of who or where she is, the sheer levels of physicality Laurent brings to Liz will keep viewers on their toes better than any other element. She runs the gamut of denial, confusion, defiance, rage, utter sadness and more than you can fit in any sized cryogenic unit, and she masterfully weaves between it all. If you’re ever feeling a bit lost in the movie's constant shuffle, Laurent is what gives it its footing and reaffirms the movie’s grip. Even compared to her work in Inglorious Basterds or Beginners, this is easily among her best – if not her best – work to date.

At the core of Oxygen is a simple, terrifying scenario and straightforward mysteries to keep it moving. It marks a unique entry for Aja that shows him evolving as a filmmaker, and LeBlanc’s script has the hallmarks of a great mystery – and together their work makes for solidly suspenseful midnight viewing – even if it does tend to bite off more than it can chew. But what you should come for, more than anything, is Laurent. A captivating performance from start to finish, she put herself into that space box, endured what I can only imagine were hours of filming at a time inside, hoists every thematic element in her shoulders, and the magic that came out of it deserves to be seen.

Source: JoBlo.com

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