Oxygen (3 stars)

Oxygen

Nail-biting, escape room-style thriller, featuring a superb Mélanie Laurent

Those who get their kicks from solving escape rooms will lap up this sci-fi thriller from French director Alexandre Aja (Crawl, The Hills Have Eyes 2006, Piranha 3D) and writer Christie LeBlanc, which features a breathless race against the clock, plenty of puzzles and, like 2010's Ryan Reynolds vehicle Buried to which it owes a debt, delivers enough ingenuity to keep you on the edge of your seat. An excellent Mélanie Laurent aids suspension of disbelief by investing every second of her performance with the utmost credibility.

Laurent plays the mysterious Elizabeth Hansen, who awakens in a high-tech cryogenic chamber with no clue as to her own identity or memory of how she got there – rats in a maze are a recurring feature of her fractured thoughts, both a nod to her profession and a less-than-subtle play on her predicament. Mathieu Amalric is the soothing voice of the chamber's operating system, MILO, with Malik Zidi a key figure from Elizabeth's past, who appears to her as she tries to piece together her history. With her oxygen supply running dangerously low (see another recent Netflix release Stowaway for a similar predicament), Elizabeth faces one hell of a fight for survival. It's all about the reveals, so we'll say no more.

Predominantly unfolding within a single, very tight location, Oxygen might seem like the kind of film that was quickly and cleverly conceived to get around pandemic restrictions. In fact, although it was indeed shot during the Covid-19 crisis, the project has been knocking around since 2017, with Anne Hathaway and Noomi Rapace previously attached. That it ended up with Laurent at the fore really is very fortunate, as she gives it the weight it needs, selling the various stages of Elizabeth's panic and the twisty, turny concept probably a fraction beyond what it deserves.

Whilst only the claustrophobic will find it frightening and it's perhaps not quite as unpredictable as it thinks it is, Aja's background in horror means he delivers solidly on the suspense and the cinematography and production design is slick enough to keep things visually interesting. The fearful, red-drenched, disorientating opener gives way to futuristic blues and greys, as Hansen grows accustomed to the softly-lit chamber with its smart tech and swirling displays, before enduring some nightmarish and abrupt medical interventions. And the film's modesty is actually something of a plus given its small screen debut; these are thrills that will work just as well on your telly, so buckle up for a nail-biting ride.

Available to watch on Netflix from Wed 12 May.

Oxygen

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • US / France
  • 1h 41min
  • Directed by: Alexandre Aja
  • Cast: Mélanie Laurent, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi
  • UK release: 12 May 2021