There’s only one Ryan Reynold’s performance I like – 2010s Buried. It was always missing something, but I could never put my finger on it. Turns out that the big fix was putting it in space (though bringing in Mélanie Laurent certainly didn’t hurt anything).
Oxygen is a brand new release from director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, Horns, Crawl, Piranha 3D) that dropped on Netflix a couple of days ago. A young woman (Mélanie Laurent) awakens in a cryogenic tube, no memory of who she is or what she is doing there. Her only companion is the artificial intelligence installed in the unit, MILO (Mathieu Amalric). Working alongside the disembodied intelligence unit, she must work to discover who she is and how to fix her unit before the oxygen runs out.
Aja is no stranger to tight, mean-spirited little thrillers. His 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes brought him national attention in America, and he’s continued to crank out interesting little films that put stress on the audience’s ability to keep from squirming. He’s now made what might be his best film (I’m unwilling to commit to that yet, as I just watched it). Oxygen is such a small drama, but one with enough organic pathos to allow Mélanie Laurent the opportunity to just show off. Aja’s greatest gift has always been drawing a specific character out of a talented performer, one that may not have ever participated in a project like his. From Daniel Radcliffe’s turn as Ig Parrish in Horns to Kaya Scodelario’s performance in Crawl, the focus on a singular individual and their battle against forces beyond their control (be they natural or man-made) is the type of thing that cemented Alexandre Aja as a unique voice.
Audiences may recognize Mélanie Laurent from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, where she played vengeful Jewish girl Shoshanna Dreyfus. She’s an actress that looks constantly on the verge of tears, whether joyous or heartbroken, and can make a laugh feel like as much of a release as an orgasm. I’ve always enjoyed when she popped up in films I get the chance to see (I’m not as familiar with French cinema as I should be, I’m sorry), but she’s playing on the same level as Aja this time. It’s strange that a film involving one woman onscreen for ninety minutes can be everyone’s best work, but I’m overjoyed that something so bonkers turned out like this for director and actress.
They’re helped along by a wonderful score from pop musician Robin Courdert. It feels like many electronic sci-fi scores, but when peppered with claustrophobic sounds taken from life support machines and screaming electronic monitors it becomes the intense nightmare you want it to be.
Look, everyone is playing varsity here. While it’s wonderful that this arrived on Netflix for us all to immediately consume, I’m quite sad that we didn’t get to experience this in a theatre. Nonetheless, Oxygen is a triumph for the director, the composer, and the actress. Alexandre Aja has been on a roll for a few years now, and if this is a sign of more improvements to come I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Oxygen is currently streaming on Netflix.