In a brand new Netflix thriller, a feminine scientist is caught in a small, contained surroundings, and should determine find out how to survive as oxygen ranges grow to be dangerously low. If this sounds acquainted, it’s attainable that you simply’ve just lately watched Stowaway, the hit Netflix film starring Anna Kendrick, the most recent big-name performer to discover psychological and ethical complexities in outer space. But it’s additionally the fundamental description for Oxygen, a second constricted-space, low-oxygen thriller on Netflix — and yet one more occasion of the streaming service colonizing territory previously occupied by conventional studio releases.
Oxygen is much less of a straight astronaut story than both Stowaway or final winter’s Netflix providing The Midnight Sky. Much of this French movie is about inside a room so tiny that the lady (Mélanie Laurent) it comprises can barely sit up, a lot much less rise to her toes and stroll round. It’s an ante-upping formal problem for director Alexandre Aja, following his satisfying limited-location thriller Crawl, the place a younger girl squared off in opposition to some imply alligators in a flooded home. At first, the lady on the middle of Oxygen doesn’t know any extra concerning the capsule she’s in than the viewers does. She wakes up disoriented and terrified, with solely flashes of reminiscences indicating who she is, or why she’s been wrapped in some type of futuristic, breathable plastic. (Initially, the lined jut of her jaw seems to be just like the silhouette of the xenomorph from Alien.) She’s been in cryo-sleep for an undetermined period of time, and reminiscence is gradual to return.
Her speedy problem, although, is frighteningly clear: The oxygen ranges in her pod are at about 35% and dropping, and she or he should fumble her means by way of a voice-activated pc interface whose options — sedatives, largely — are supplied with menacing pushiness. Her capsule is locked, and although she’s in a position to determine find out how to make outgoing telephone calls, reception is fuzzy, and discovering the precise contact data entails lots of trial and error. The logistics of Oxygen are extra sci-fi than the human drama of Stowaway. In the latter, a lot of the dialogue addresses the ethical and moral dilemmas in trying to avoid wasting each particular person lives and a crucially necessary mission. In Oxygen, Laurent repeatedly has to dodge an automatic hypodermic needle, advancing on her like an aggressive snake.
Oxygen is a tacky exploitation thriller, to a point, with the catch that Aja has grow to be expert at finding each human curiosity and immediacy inside the confines of tacky exploitation thrillers. As in Crawl, he is aware of when to lean on his central performer, and tells lots of his story by way of Laurent’s appearing, which balances intelligence and resourcefulness with what the MTV Movie Awards have generally known as the “scared as shit” efficiency. Oxygen isn’t a horror movie, however Aja’s horror background appears to goad him into tightening the suspense, even flirting with moments of physique horror when Lauren has to fiddle with the tubes which have stored her character in cryo, and now threaten to override her choices if she will be able to’t take management of the pc.
Oxygen’s largest sci-fi concepts are largely cribbed from different, extra considerate motion pictures, and it takes some time earlier than the ultimately twisty story begins providing up real surprises. (The first large story flip, concerning the situation of Laurent’s pod-like construction, is one thing many viewers will assume from the opening.) But Aja’s movie was shot in the course of the pandemic in summer season of 2020, and there are faint echoes of quarantine life in watching somebody strive to determine their id by sifting by way of digital photographs, like somebody scrolling by way of their Instagram feed to recollect their very own Before Times.
Oxygen additionally seems like a pandemic film by advantage of premiering on Netflix, a service whose capability to echo our tastes and cinematic experiences again to us has seemingly elevated over the previous yr. Both Oxygen and Stowaway intently resemble motion pictures which have performed in theatrical launch, whether or not it’s the white-knuckle peril of Gravity or Crawl, the claustrophobia of Buried or Phone Booth, or the cautious problem-solving of The Martian. This isn’t all the time a given with Netflix originals, a few of which inevitably really feel extra like TV motion pictures than refugees from film theaters. Oxygen is definitely a lower above in that division; its resemblance to previous motion pictures additionally makes this one a bit uncanny.
It isn’t uncommon for mainstream motion pictures to replicate the zeitgeist, whether or not in intentional methods or not. In that sense, Oxygen, Stowaway, and The Midnight Sky all belong on the latest spectrum of Hollywood motion pictures that discover house journey, astronaut peril, and the potential for colonization, with COVID-19 offering a brand new lens for his or her remoted, repopulation-centric tales. Yet these Netflix thrillers additionally really feel like they’ve been shrunk down and recalibrated for a selected type of home-viewing expertise, like they exist in their very own enclosed house.
In some methods, it is a promising growth; Oxygen is small-scale sci-fi, with plentiful thrills and minimal bombast, as a lot a locked-pod thriller as the rest. Taken alongside Stowaway, by way of, and in such shut proximity, the movies really feel like an algorithm A/B testing comparable tales, scanning the viewers for optimum response that may inform future astronaut narratives.
That’s the place the cheaper thrills and intrigue of Oxygen give it a bonus. While Stowaway’s makes an attempt at thoughtfulness add as much as a film that compellingly imitates different house narratives with out discovering its personal voice, Aja’s enjoyment of placing viewers by way of a wringer feels trustworthy. So does his embrace of his film’s (and distributor’s) limitations, the place the vastness of future expertise have to be adaptable to an unspectacular 40-inch TV display screen. At occasions, watching Oxygen simulates that futuristic confine all too effectively. Breathable air could run out, however content material will preserve churning perpetually.
Oxygen is now streaming on Netflix.