Directed by #AlexandreAja
Written by #ChristieLeBlanc
A woman (Mélanie Laurent) awakens in a cryogenic chamber with no idea who she is or how she got there and has to find a way to escape before running out of oxygen. Here begins a horrific countdown that makes the viewer question every image they are confronted with. Oxygen (French: Oxygène) is a French sci-fi thriller that tests the boundaries of futuristic science that is considered unfathomable and also incredibly stressful.
The woman learns information on her whereabouts through an inbuilt A.I. voice MILO (Mathieu Amalric) and discovers that her name is Elizabeth Hansen. She must figure out the correct questions to ask MILO before she can no longer breathe. Throughout her remaining ninety minutes (which is cleverly the length of the film), Elizabeth is mostly alone and drip-fed facts about herself and events happening in the world and experiences unbearable isolation, panic and hopelessness as a result. This chaos is exaggerated through sound effects of an irregular heartbeat and Elizabeth’s shaky and rapid breathing and panting as she frantically attempts escape.
Alexandre Aja is known in the French film industry for his horror films and Oxygen does well to live up to his legacy. This film is not an easy watch. It screams with intensity from the offset with lots of flashing lights (trigger warning if you are sensitive to flashing images), rapid flashbacks and persistent machine sound effects all contributing to a constant feeling of panic and a lack of control. Claustrophobia dominates the plot, taking a potential future of medical care, something arguably hopeful and exciting in preserving life, and warps it into a painful and inescapable nightmare. This is amplified through long scene takes, interspersed with rapid action, that are cleverly shot so that it feels as though it is happening live.
Close-ups on Elizabeth and up-angled shots from her perspective are also extremely unnerving as it is though we are viewing the chamber from her perspective. This entrapment makes this the type of thriller that makes you really need to concentrate on your breathing because the focus on a lack of oxygen makes you feel out of breath. That, combined with horrible imagery of animal testing and medical trauma, is sure to make anyone watching gasp in shock.
Christie LeBlanc’s writing is both complex and chilling in that nothing feels real, yet everything is really tangible as Elizabeth scrambles for survival. As she becomes more overwhelmed, so does the viewer with an overload of sensation as sound and lighting becomes louder and brighter. As the oxygen ticks down, filming becomes more disorientating as Elizabeth loses more focus. The camera becomes shakier and shots rotate more frequently to add to the visual and cognitive confusion that Elizabeth has. As she attempts to communicate with the outside world, she does not know who to trust because she is not sure what is real - and neither are we. This issue of memory and an unreliable narrator excels this film to maintain tension and suspense throughout.
Oxygen creates more questions surrounding the ethics of preserving humans in cryogenics. Intelligent and thought provoking, it is worth a watch.
Oxygen is streaming on NetflixUK now. Watch the trailer here: