There is perhaps no crueler way to die than to be deprived of the very thing we’ve all breathed in and taken for granted our entire lives. Sure, there are far more painful and gruesome ways to go, but to die because you ran out of air simply seems like tragic cosmic irony.
And that’s exactly what Netflix’s latest sci-fi/survival/thriller Oxygen tackles. Directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes remake, Crawl), Oxygen is incredibly tense and compelling, much like the horror films on his resume. And while it’s not outright horror, we’re considering it horror-adjacent given the sense of dread, isolation, and of course survival!
The movie opens up and takes place entirely inside a cryo-pod (with the exception of a few flashback scenes). We see Liz (portrayed by Mélanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds fame) wake up rather suddenly to the realization that her pod only has about 33% oxygen, at which point she will surely suffocate to death.
Bold and determined to make it out alive, Liz gathers as much information as she can from the AI computer called M.I.L.O. in order to figure out her options. Part of her issue however is that she has no memory of who she is, or how she got there. Her only clues are that she is encased in some sort of pod that was meant to be for cryo-sleep, and she’s hooked up to IVs and other medical devices.
The immense claustrophobia plays a huge role in the tension throughout. There have been other films where someone is trapped somewhere with the ultimate goal to escape. But here the mission is to merely get more oxygen to breathe, so it’s a bit more unsettling to think that no matter that outcome, Liz will probably remain trapped there physically, albeit asleep.
Throughout its runtime, Laurent has a pretty big task to pretty much carry the entire film, which she does so rather brilliantly. We see her run the full gamut of emotions from fear to determination to shock to downright nihilism when things start to look grim.
But another performance that deserves mentioned is that of Mathiu Amalric, the voice of the computer M.I.L.O. There have been plenty of sci-fi media in which the AI is evil, but M.I.L.O. is different.
It comes off as cold and calculating like you’d expect a computer to be, but it’s also incredibly helpful, and even helps guide Liz around its programming so she can give just the right command. In a weird way, M.I.L.O. seems like the good version of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Buried meets Gravity meets Interstellar (Spoilers Ahead)
Perhaps the best way to describe Oxygen is that it follows a similar premise to 2010’s Buried, but with a sci-fi twist. Liz is able to make phone calls via M.I.L.O.’s system, and she gets ahold of a police officer, who does some digging and tells her she’s a medical facility underground, following an accident. The fact that she has no memory causes her to believe this…at first.
The more Liz digs, the more she discovers that things are being kept from her. And by the end of the second act, the movie goes full Interstellar when she discovers that she’s actually in space, with thousands of other people in cryo-sleep, heading towards a new planet meant for humanity to inhabit and thrive.
Given the futuristic setting, this twist doesn’t really come as that much of a surprise. But there is another, much better twist involving Liz’s true identity that’s much more of a shocker. It’s a fascinating concept, and the only real issue is that the movie doesn’t play it up sooner. It saves this information as a third act reveal, when it would have been really interesting to take the time to fully explore all of it.
The result is a final product that wants to be as complex as Interstellar, but told as directly as Buried. And while this may seem a bit botched, the overall tension, compelling nature, and amazing visuals of the movie aren’t ruined, and Oxygen still makes for a really exciting watch!
What did you think of Oxygen? What are some of your other favorite isolation/survival movies? Let us know in the comments!
Oxygen is streaming exclusively on Netflix
For more reviews, rankings, lists, and other fun horror content, follow Halloween Year-Round on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube!