On a bright, sunlit day, an attractive middle-aged woman (Laila Robbins, "True Crime") is walking her dog when she's stopped by a charming stranger (Adrien Brody, "Summer of Sam") who makes a dog biscuit appear in a magic trick. Suddenly the encounter turns ugly when he suggests she get into a car, then shows her a gun. He and his accomplice drive her into the woods, strip her to her underwear, force her to make a kidnap/ransom video, and bury her alive in "Oxygen."
Laura's Review: C+
"Oxygen" is a somewhat worthwhile little effort due to some fine acting and intriguing small touches, but writer/director Richard Shepard's film suffers from inevitable comparisons to such films as "The Vanishing," "Manhunter," and "The Silence of the Lambs," and some clumsy script choices. Maura Tierney ("Forces of Nature") is a fierce NYC detective, introduced IDing a wanted man on the subway and chasing him through city streets until he's brought down. However, Madeline has dark secrets which she keeps from her husband Tim (Terry Kinney, "Fly Away Home") the captain of her station. She consistently breaks a pact they have to shun alcohol, maybe to drown the self-loathing she feels over the masochistic affair she's involved in. When the kidnap victim's husband defies her captor Harry's instructions brings the videotape to the police, Madeline's determined to save the woman from her horrible fate (she has about 24 hours of oxygen within her coffin - if she doesn't panic). The police stake out the money drop, but when Harry refuses to reveal the coffin's location at the scene, Madeline jumps in her car and pursues him. Her character, which has been drawn as fairly intelligent up to this point, stupidly allows herself to be seen by Harry when she switches lanes every time he does. She bags him, though and the film becomes a game of wits when Harry insists that Madeline be his interrogator. It's here that Hannibal Lector is strongly recalled in both his filmic incarnations. As in "Manhunter," the pursuer is troubled by the dark similarities between herself and the criminal, which Harry uses to his advantage as soon as he spies the cigarette burns on the non-smoking Madeline's arm. As in "The Silence of the Lambs," he insists on hearing her troubling secrets before divulging the information she so desperately needs and engineers a brilliant escape stunt (he calls himself Harry Houdini). Shepard throws a little twist into his material lifting by having Tim witness the exchange from behind a two way mirror. (Lots of subtle duality here as there are hints that the victim's marriage is impacted by secrets as well.) Shepard also throws in some nice touches, such as the victim begging Harry's more sympathetic accomplice for his flashlight before they close the coffin lid. This allows her to keep her sanity until the battery runs down - making the burial a double-tiered horror when utter darkness envelops her. Harry's escape, engineered to show off his brilliance and corner Madeline rather than to make a run for it, is also a nicely thought out concept, as is the marital discord brought about between Madeline and Tim. However the film devolves into standard thriller conventions as it wraps. Good acting by Brody, Tierney and Kinney, sparks of imagination in an otherwise derivative script, and crisp lensing raise "Oxygen" a midge about the average.