(Originally published July 06, 2021 by Isaac Payne)
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I sat down to watch Oxygen, a new sci-fi movie on Netflix.
The description was fairly simple; a woman wakes up in a stasis pod and is rapidly losing oxygen (hence the title) and must remember her past to find a way to fix the problem before she perishes.
It seemed like a premise I’d seen done before, but I couldn’t pinpoint from where.
Regardless, I grabbed my bowl of ice cream and settled in. Little did I know I was about to watch one of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix. It was:
- And a tad frightening
Oxygen Isn’t About Escape, It’s About Control
The whole film revolves around Elizabeth Hansen, who wakes up in a claustrophobic cryo-stasis pod. Her oxygen is being depleted, and she has the length of the movie to figure out why (which is about 100 minutes).
As a writer, I was always told to never start a story with a character waking up. It’s too simple, it’s an opt-out of any kind of backstory building, etc. etc.
But Oxygen starts in just that fashion, with Elizabeth coming to in her stasis pod, and I think it works. After all, if the premise revolves around a stasis pod keeping people alive indefinitely, then the largest conflict would be waking up before the scheduled time, right?
If only it were that simple.
For 3/4ths of the film, Elizabeth’s prime objective is to either escape the pod on her own before the lack of oxygen kills her, or find someone on the outside to get her out. She’s assisted—and held back—by M.I.L.O., the artificial intelligence Medical Interface Liaison Officer responsible for her wellbeing.
With M.I.L.O.’s help, she’s able to make contact with the outside world, but with each call she places to the people on the outside, the plot becomes more convoluted.
Just as we as viewers think we know what’s going on, the movie takes another wild turn, subverting our expectations.
Personally, it’s a genius move. If I had to watch a film that takes place entirely in a stasis pod for an hour and a half—when the only conflict is getting out—I’d become bored very quickly.
But Oxygen becomes more than just a fight for survival; it’s a fight for control over one’s body, mind, and autonomy. And that’s why it’s so good.
The Making of a Top Sci-Fi Movie
In some scenes of the film, Elizabeth is reading social media posts and academic journals, which appear in French. I figured it was a stylistic choice, but only after I read more about the film’s production did I realize why there was such a heavy emphasis on the French language.
Oxygen, or Oxygene, as it is called in France, was a collaboration between American and French filmmakers. Planning started back in 2017, and filming took place in July of 2020. (Which was a bit haunting, seeing as how it was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and staple part of the film is a worldwide disease that claims Elizabeth’s loved ones.)
The film was directed by horror expert Alexandre Aja, whose previous films include The Hills Have Eyes and High Tension.
Aja said when talking to Variety that Oxygen is a “real emotional escape game” and he certainly takes that idea to the next level. Filming entirely in one location, the stasis pod, doesn’t leave a lot of room for deviation, so he had to get creative.
The lighting and camera angles help portray Elizabeth’s emotions, since dialogue isn’t really a big part of the film. The red lighting of the low oxygen environment elevates the feeling of containment, while the soft white lighting provides a brief respite from the tension.
All of these things were on Aja’s mind as he directed this film, and it certainly shows.
Oxygen is a one of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix I’ve seen in a long time. The attention to detail, dynamic story, and moments of horror makes it quite a ride.
If you find yourself with an hour and a half to spare and a penchant for some mind-boggling sci-fi horror, I highly suggest checking Oxygen out on Netflix. I give it a 9/10.
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