Cast: Nayanthara, Rithvik Jothi Raj, Barath Neelakantan
Director: G.S. Viknesh
Streaming On: Disney+ Hotstar
There's a naive sincerity in the way the film's director tries to insert themes of eco-activism into his survival thriller. On the surface, it's your standard issue genre film about a set of passengers who get trapped in a bus under the weight of a landslide. With falling levels of oxygen and increasing levels of tension, these passengers don't look like they'll make it through the night, but the film never forgets to add a point or two about how their plight is a result of larger environmental issues.
Some of these, like how a rescue worker explaining the landslides as a result of mass deforestation, feels too forced like it was shoehorned into the screenplay to fit the larger theme. But others, like how a small houseplant is brought back to make a larger point, get you feeling all fuzzy inside, appealing to the part of the brain Pixar films are made for. The idea, one guesses, is to use the strengths of the genre to plant within it concepts you'd otherwise not pay attention to. And there are only so many new ways you can get people to plant more trees and live green.
So instead of making one new pamphlet, the makers choose the survival thriller to make points you already know. At first, you feel the film's going to make this point by making it all about a boy with a complex breathing problem. Strapped to him is an oxygen cylinder that functions as the ticking time bomb of the screenplay. But with the aforementioned bus getting trapped under the rubble, there's not a lot of difference between the other passengers and the boy.
It feels a little obvious but the film wants you to look at the adults on the bus and see what they've done to the next generation. With a politician, a policeman, and a bigot in attendance, the film touches upon even larger world issues, but without the effort required to be taken seriously.
O2 is also a film that works strongest when it feels like it's building up to something larger. Like a multi-narrative, we're introduced to a set of characters, each with their own conflicts and time constraints. But none of these feel like real people after a point. A funny guy is there only to be the funny guy. Similarly, the politician too comes off like a caricature neither adding any tension nor helping the screenplay. Add to this a single-note villain and you suddenly catch yourself feeling like most of the passengers deserve to be buried in their mess anyway.
This feeling then becomes even more frustrating when the drama doesn't build on the premise. From the inside, it follows the same exact pattern of events you expect the moment the characters have been set. And from the outside, there's nothing that happens that gives the rescue the feeling that we're just a minute away from getting to them. Without characters you genuinely care for and without the screenplay constantly pushing you towards the end of your seat, O2 isn't exactly the suffocating experience it wanted to be. Sure, it has its heart in its right place and it speaks about a topic our films don't discuss enough, but that's hardly enough to sustain a thriller that's meant to…take your breath away.