Fans of “Inglorious Basterds” can already tell you that Mélanie Laurent draws heavy emotions from a confined space. As Shosanna in this 2009 WWII revenge fantasy, the French actress is crucial to the film’s absolutely unforgettable opening scene. Her character hides in the silent fear of Nazi thugs in the floor of a French country house, every moment dripping with tension, until she pauses in tears for it.
Now Laurent is getting a master class in the claustrophobic arts with “Oxygen.” Directed by Alexandre Aja, the French sci-fi thriller arrives on Netflix on May 12.
This is one of those where you don’t want to give more than bare bones. Laurent plays a woman who wakes up lying down, tied up, hooked to an intravenous drip and stuffed into a sort of bag. It is confined in a kind of cryogenic capsule. She doesn’t know who she is or how she got into this confined space. Fortunately, the pod comes equipped with a mostly useful AI called MILO (voiced by Mathieu Amalric). Fortunately, its own HAL 9000 announces that the cryogenic chamber is rapidly losing oxygen and is not about to open the hatch. Then, a race against time begins as the woman finds out who she is, how she got into the pod and how to save herself.
Written by Christie LeBlanc, “Oxygen” conjures up a plethora of films before it – you’ll have your own touchstones, but my mind goes right off to Ryan Reynolds in the “Buried” coffin-squirmer. Perhaps a better comparison is Alfonso Cuarón’s stressful survival movie “Gravity,” a movie that made me love Sandra Bullock more and made me think space itself should be in prison.
Aja’s new release in the genre “aaah, let me out, let me out” comes with the director’s horror film pedigree, including “The Hills Have Eyes” in 2006. Knowing this helps you understand “Oxygen”, which has a sterile futuristic look but a creature’s instincts are characteristic. The snaking, syringe-carrying arm of the capsule is adjacent to Sam Raimi’s playbook, for example (tree branches “The Evil Dead” or Doc Ock tentacle “Spider-Man 2”), take your pick.) Here , it all looks a little scarier than you might think, but also a little more schlocky … which, it must be said, isn’t strictly a bad thing.
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Laurent is likely to bring more than a few people to “Oxygen”. (Hello.) If you need an actor to fill an hour and 40 minutes of screen time in a shiny grain of metal, you can’t do much better than her – those intense, watchful eyes keep the intrigue when the dialogue lights up. She goes through each stage of mourning at least twice here. “Oxygen” is also a mystery, and Laurent performs deductive reasoning in panic like a champ.
As a puzzle, this movie is a bit frustrating. After all, it’s not as if the flashes of Laurent’s memories or the clinical robots that MILO gushes out in response to his questions can be put together by an enterprising spectator. The audience is even more in the dark than the woman in the capsule (who has at least some soothing LED lights); she has a basic understanding of the rules of this world, even though she couldn’t start telling you her name.
But still, we’re here to have fun in the great tradition of cinematic peril, and art only freezes the cake. Cinematographer Maxime Alexandre finds inventive ways to create different frames and perspectives in an incredibly limited space. It’s impressive.
We won’t spoil the discoveries Laurent’s character makes in his desperate attempt to escape suffocation, or abandon the particular twists “Oxygen” takes on his way to establishing a world we don’t. not even fully understand until the last minutes. There are some fun ideas here, if not for reinvention. And by the time it’s over, you’re grateful for the opportunity to watch Laurent literally come out of a bag.
In some ways, the movie works better as a thought experiment than a story. Which underrated artist would you like to watch the singer in a stationary position just to see what’s going on? Out of the Dome: Would watch “Oxygen 2” with Molly Shannon.
French with English subtitles
Starring: Mélanie Laurent, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi
Director: Alexandre Aja
Rated: TV-14 for fear, language and smoking.
Duration: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Watch: Stream on Netflix