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Netflix's Oxygen
Image: Time Out/Netflix

Here’s what critics are saying about Netflix’s sci-fi thriller Oxygen

A horror icon finds claustrophobic thrills and unexpected heart

Written by
Andy Kryza
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This weekend, two horror heavyweights will duke it out for US box office supremacy, with Zack Snyder’s limited release of Army of the Dead going severed head-to-head with the latest entry in the Saw series, the Chris Rock-starring Spiral.  

But while those films films are sure to satiate audiences’ thirst for blood, the week’s more satisfying genre thrills might just be lurking on Netflix.

Oxygen, the latest from French provocateur Alexandre Aja, makes its debut on the streamer Friday. The film stars Mélanie Laurent as a woman who wakes up trapped in a futuristic cryogenic chamber with a dwindling supply of oxygen and no memory of how she got there. With the help a robotic medical interface (voiced by Mathieu Amalric), she attempts to survive before her air supply runs out. 

The film is a big departure for Aja, a member of the French horror extreme school who debuted with the cult-hit slasher High Tension and grossed out American audiences with gnarly remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and the camp classic Piranha. But single-location thriller — with shades of 2001, Buried, Gravity and other isolated affairs — is tracking well among critics. In fact, despite the fact that much of the praise is elevated just above lukewarm, it’s currently the director’s best-received film to date. 

Jesse Hassenger of Polgyon noted the film’s striking similarity to the recent Netflix film Stowaway — another sci-fi flick focused on a dwindling supply of oxygen — noting that Aja’s film’s embrace of cheap thrills give it an entertaining edge.

Over at horror hub Bloody Disgusting, lead critic Meagan Navarro praised the film’s visual flair, but said the film loses its momentum at the halfway point, failing to deliver on a compelling-if-familiar setup, writing “Instead of high-octane thrills, Oxygen favors sentimentality… The more exposition gets delivered, the more the urgency fades.”

In a 3.5-star review, RogerEbert.com’s Brian Tallerico calls Oxygen a phenomenal showcase for star Laurent, who first came to mainstream America’s attention with her role as the Nazi-slaying theater owner in Inglourious Basterds. “Running an entire gamut of emotions from fear to anger to grief, Laurent gives what will easily be one of the best performances of 2021,” he writes.

Chuck Bowen of Slant, in a mostly positive review, noted that the film traffics in territory heretofore unfamiliar to the viscera-forward Aja — warmth —noting that the film shifts tones that shift it's evocations from Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report to something closer to Amblin. ”The filmmakers trade in Spielberg’s techno-horror for the uplift of Duncan Jones’s Moon and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

It’s not all praise, though. IndieWire’s David Ehrlich digs into the film’s “groan-worthy gaslighting and mind-boggling contrivances,” ultimately concluding “Aja’s film loses so much air on the way to its grand finale that it barely has anything left to exhale by the time it’s over.”

Oxygen releases on Netflix May 14.

Here are the 100 best sci-fi films of all time. 

And check out what Time Out said about Aja’s last film, Crawl.

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