Get Me O2 Here
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Okay, I’m going to try and do this without spoilers... although, by about 20 mins into the film, most people would have figured it all out anyway. One day I’m pretty sure Alexandre Aja is going to make a film which I actually like and which doesn’t let me down somewhat in the last act. Alas, Oxygen is still not that film but it comes close in terms of, if it wasn’t so darned obvious what’s going on and if it had a much better solution to the initial hook of the film, then it might have got there. But, well, yeah, as it stands it’s almost like an exercise in finishing up a film even though you know the audience got there an hour or more before so... hmm.
Okay, Oxygen is basically a one woman show apart from the odd other characters who turn up as either visual memories or voices on a ‘telephone’ call but the central lead is Mélanie Laurent, who I loved in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, playing Liz. Liz wakes up in a... well, let’s call it a chamber for the sake of this review... a small chamber on some kind of life support but with only about 36% of her air left. She can’t get out of the capsule and she doesn’t know who she is or why she’s there... although, as I said, the audience will have figured out the main plot ‘twists’, such as they are, by about 20 minutes in. Her only companion is the chamber’s computer MILO, voiced by Mathieu Amalric.
So the majority of the action in the film is all set in this small chamber with the occasional cut to what’s outside the chamber and the odd, wordless memory. From the outset, the film becomes about how Liz is to survive both the oxygen running out and how she can escape the inevitable while also trying to remember just who she is and what she’s doing there... her memories being a process that becomes part of the solution to the movie, as well as her personal downfall, in some ways. Along the way she also has to battle with various protocols and dangers from MILO, negotiating certain things and battling automated processes which will lessen her chances of survival.
And there’s not much else I can really tell you about the story itself because, it is very simplistic and also revealing anything else will just spell out what’s happening to you right away without you needing to even see a frame of film. So, yeah, in terms of the story and the follow up to the compelling hook, the film sucks in that department, it has to be said.
However, let’s not focus on the negatives because, aside from the story, Aja does a really quite good and interesting job with the materials that he does have to work with (and, out of all the ones I’ve seen by him, this one is still my favourite of his films).
For example, the film opens strongly with a lab rat in a maze leading into a pull back revealing a bigger maze, while the title of the film comes up over the top of it in very clinical whites and, while the metaphor being pushed this early in the film is somewhat sloppy in tipping the hand on certain elements of the later 'twists', it looks great. Then, in a series of shots that introduce the character waking, we get flashes of her in a red lit environment (for a while) in a kind of stroboscopic reveal of her situation, with odd memories of her life also cross cut and crashing in on the action in the same manner. So, yeah, a nice pulse theme going on there.
Later on, the idea of a pulse is revisited when, as we hear Liz’ heartbeat on the audio to increase suspense as she loses more oxygen, the camera does little mini zooms in and out in time with the rhythm... which really pushes the intensity of her plight and her state of mind.
Another big plus is the acting from Laurent which is, admittedly a bit histrionic in places but, ultimately, pretty good. She manages to engage the viewer and carry the film on her shoulders very well. I mean, it’s a bit of a ‘one note’ character in terms of how she develops (or doesn’t, more accurately) during the course of the movie but there’s an obvious, limiting reason for this which is bound to her identity and which the audience will figure out maybe an hour before she does, so it’s certainly not the acting at fault. Like I said, she does a great job... it’s just the story which is the weakest link here.
The other good thing is the score by ROB, which is something I would immediately rush to purchase on CD as a stand alone listen except, nope, it’s only available as a stupid, electronic download (which really doesn’t count as a great representation of music as far as I’m concerned). It seems that the once reliable Milan record label have now joined the ranks of Watertower and such like as ‘the bad guys’ of their field... the enemies of music in its proper form on CD. Which is a shame... so they won’t be getting my money while only this rough facsimile is available, for sure. I would have liked to hear it as a stand alone.
All in all, Oxygen looks spectacular, is well acted, is well told by the director and has a terrific, if unavailable score... it’s just the obviousness of the story which annoys me. Don’t get me wrong, if I’d seen this film when I was six years old or had managed to grow up having never seen any movies my whole life, then I probably would have been blown away by it but, alas, I think it’s one of those works that, on a story level at least, will only appeal to the young or less cine-literate and I find it a bit sad that a director such as Aja, who certainly seems to know how to get the best out of a production, is choosing to shoot material which seems somewhat beneath him in terms of contributing something new or personal to the cinematic landscape. And I can’t find anything more to say about this one. Ten out of ten for style, three out of ten for story content.