A young woman wakes up in a cryogenic pod. She doesn’t remember who she is or how she ended up there. Is she physically or mentally ill? Why can’t she get out? How did she get there? Why doesn’t she remember anything? Who’s responsible for her nightmare? Discover the secrets, the plot and the cast of the French survival thriller Oxygen.


Oxygen, which premiered on Netflix on 12 May 2021, is a French film directed by Alexandre Aja (43). He has mainly directed horror films like High Tension (2003) or Crawl (2003).

The film director and his team had the intention to shoot the film in English in London. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they changed their plans and shot the film in French in Ivry-sur-Seine, an industrial suburb southeast of Paris, in summer 2020.

Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) was supposed to play the lead role in the English version of Oxygen. Instead she became one of the executive producers of the French film.

“This shut-in-feeling and the disease are two subjects that remind me of 28 Days Later (2002) by English film director Danny Boyle,” says Aja. “We discover the universe in which Liz evolves and we have to get out of this mental labyrinth with her. We have to sift through our memories and her memories in order to understand what happened to us and to escape.”

French actress Mélanie Laurent (38) plays the lead role. In 2009, she rose to international fame with her role as Shosanna Dreyfus in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009). In 2013, she starred in Night Train to Lisbon (2013) alongside Jeremy Irons and in 2018 in Operation Finale alongside Ben Kingsley.

“I knew that Mélanie had the mental force for this role,” says Aja. “She had to lay 20 days in the cryogenic pod, which was a challenge. We had problems with the light inside the pot, but we found a visual aesthetic solution that is totally new.”

For the spin-off voice, Aja chose French actor Mathieu Amalric (55), the lead villain in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace (2008). He also starred in Munich (2005) by Steven Spielberg and in the highly acclaimed The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007). “The voice of this medical assistant had to be warm and calm,” explains Aja. “We registered Mathieu’s spin-off sequences before we started to shoot the film.”

“The voice of Milo, the machine that was programmed by a human being, is not robotic,” says actor Mathieu Amalric. “Today’s machines and gadgets have achieved such a high degree of perfection that they can imitate the human consciousness.”

The film also focuses on artificial intelligence, which is an important part of science fiction, a genre in which Netflix is very successful. For film director Aja, science fiction is a great opportunity to tell modern tales.”

One of the biggest challenges was to avoid a remake of Buried. “It’s not a film about claustrophobia, but about physical and mental confinement,” says Aja.

“We are all afraid of being buried alive,” says the French film director. For me, it’s the most universal fear, worse than sharks. I’m not claustrophobic, but the feeling of being locked up, to be cut off from the outside world and the fear of suffocation are terrible. Physically, it must be extremely hard, the pain must be atrocious.”

McGuff, one of the main digital visual effects design studios in the US and Europe, employed 55 people for the special effects of Oxygen.

The Oxygen crew built two identical film sets in order to work faster. The pod has a size of 3 square meters. Placing the camera and the lights was therefore a challenge. The film was shot with an ALEXA LF.

“The first scene, the red sequence, is extremely important, because it plunges the viewer in a state of great fear, but also of great mystery,” says composer Rob. “It’s a scene of extreme claustrophobia, and the viewer has so many questions: What is going on? Where? Who is the person screaming? The music of this scene is very abstract, not melodic at all, but very close to the feelings of the body – acid, suffocating.”

“The last day of the shooting, they put 150 rats in my pod,” says actress Mélanie Laurent. “I’ve never been filmed so close for an hour and forty minutes. I was in apnea and didn’t have enough oxygen.”

The French actress had a special four-week sports training in Bretagne before the shooting of Oxygen started. She spent three hours a day doing sports with coaches of the Cirque du Soleil. Once a day, she also had to train a panic crisis.

Photos: Courtesy of Netflix

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