Oxygen

★★★

I’ve always considered myself a fan of French horror filmmaker Alexandre Aja despite his filmography being a bit of a mixed bag to me.

“High Tension” has some amazing kills, but its twist didn’t stick the landing. His 2006 remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” held true to the original, but was a touch too brutal for my tastes. “Mirrors” bummed me out by wasting a perfectly good topless Amy Smart by having her rip her own jaw off in a bathtub. I adore the 2010 remake/reimagining “Piranha 3D” what with all its fun sex and violence – the flick’s a blast and my favorite of Aja’s oeuvre. Somehow I missed “Horns” and “The 9th Life of Louis Drax.” “Crawl” is another creature feature from Aja that many (me included) saw as a return to form.

This brings us to “Oxygen” (now streaming on Netflix), Aja’s latest and his first French language film in almost 20 years. He moves away from his horror roots by tackling this thriller that’s little more than a sci-fi-ified reskinning of the 2010 Ryan Reynolds vehicle “Buried.”

Aja further extrapolates on the single location gimmick employed in “Crawl” (it was a flooded basement full of alligators in that flick) by setting the entire enterprise within a cryogenic chamber. The pod’s sole human occupant is a woman referred to as Omicron-267 (Mélanie Laurent). She awakes from cryosleep not knowing who she is or how she got here. Her only source for answers is an artificial intelligence known as Medical Interface Liaison Operator AKA M.I.L.O. (voiced by Mathieu Amalric). M.I.L.O. also informs Omicron that her air supply is at 35% and dropping. Omicron must piece together her past and either escape or get rescued from the capsule before she asphyxiates to death.

“Oxygen” was conceived pre-COVID by first-time screenwriter Christie LeBlanc, but feels fitting for our times as a pandemic placed Omicron in her pod in the first place. (The picture was also shot in France between that country’s first and second lockdowns.) The sense of isolation and the fear of not being able to breathe also seem pertinent to now. Anti-vaxxers will likely relate to a scene in which a mechanized robot arm tries to stick Omicron with sedatives she doesn’t want.

At an hour and 41 minutes “Oxygen” overstays its welcome. I can’t help but think this story would’ve made a better episode of “Black Mirror” or “The Twilight Zone” as opposed to a full-fledged film. Despite running too long on a thin concept, I can’t find fault with Laurent’s performance. She’s a dynamic performer who anchors the movie admirably. She and her flaring nostrils deserve all sorts of credit.

“Oxygen” is capably made, but doesn’t breathe new life into the thriller genre. I’d likely rather listen to Air Supply for an hour and a half than watch Laurent’s Omicron struggle for air supply again.

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