An ode to the pandemic

Director Alexandre Aja’s gripping thriller “Oxygen” marks a new direction for film

Netflixs latest release infuses grief and optimism to reflect on the pandemic

Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Netflix’s latest release infuses grief and optimism to reflect on the pandemic

Edison Geiler, MWHS Wildcat News Editor-in-Chief

A young woman (Mélanie Laurent) wakes up in a cryogenic chamber, unaware of her identity and how she ended up in such a confining space. Only having access to a super-computer named MILO (Matthew Amalric), she has to escape before her oxygen levels run out. 

What a truly relatable situation.

Aja’s latest horror movie “Oxygen” seems to mark the first large-budget film about the universal struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic. Shot in July 2020, it captures the intense claustrophobia of most of the world during quarantine ― stuck in a strange situation with little air, this woman tries to navigate the uncertain future by piecing together parts of her past through brief flashbacks and information MILO provides. It’s difficult to miss the connection between the pandemic and this movie: like the woman trying to escape, most of the world has been trapped in perilous situations for the past year, uncertain of the future, unsure how to maneuver each new day and using the internet to find out what else has happened elsewhere on the globe.

But larger cultural connections aside, Oxygen boasts a captivating story and a phenomenal performance from Laurent.

Though the technical elements are nothing to gawk at, the plot kept me interested throughout, even at times if it felt too predictable. With quarantine still fresh in the world’s minds, this young woman’s struggle to escape should resonate with many; it did with me. Details take center stage ― the audience is trying to figure out the story before the protagonist. Aja forces viewers to participate in their own claustrophobic situation; as the woman tries figuring out how to break out before her oxygen runs too low, the audience has to piece together as many details as possible before the story progresses further. Trying to figure out where the plot was going to end  kept my mind active and drew me into the struggles of the protagonist ― I’ll leave the plot details alone, as knowing what happens beforehand would greatly diminish how someone might perceive the film.

The final act of the film largely drags it down and left me unsatisfied. Some viewers may find enjoyment out of the conclusion, but I found it a bit messy. Though there were parts I still enjoyed trying to figure out, much of that fun was lost when the film started to draw near its conclusion. It saves a big reveal near the end, but by that point, the direction is pretty clear, and the captivation I felt for most of the film had waned.

However, Laurent’s exceptional performance saves whatever qualms I have with the story. From fear to anger to grief, she mostly uses just her face and voice throughout the entire movie. She’s able to display her immense range, and it’s even more impressive considering the film takes place in a small chamber. She turns in one of the finest acting jobs of the first five months of the year and will most likely still be one of the best by the end of 2021.

Oxygen takes on the monumental task of combining despair and optimism, a perfect encapsulation of what many have felt during this past year that was ravaged by COVID-19 and where the world is right now. Many have had to assess what they’ve lost during the pandemic, but still hope for a better future that becomes clearer with each passing day. Though the story is sometimes less than engaging near the end, Laurent’s performance and a strong first two acts helps create a story many people around the world can relate to; I wonder if it will usher in a new wave of films reflecting on COVID-19.

As the film is originally French and the actors speak that language, interested viewers should watch in its intended language ― I think Laurent’s brilliant performance would be lost without her own voice. Despite my qualms with its conclusion, I recommend this movie purely for the acting, but the story will keep viewers engaged enough to have a thrilling viewing. It’s not one of the best movies of the year, but it boasts great elements audiences shouldn’t ignore.

4/5 stars