Director: Egor Abramenko
Starring: Oksana Akinshina, Fyodor Bondarchuk, Pyotr Fyodorov
Review Author: Tony
With the limited number of VOD releases, beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to selecting a movie to review. It’s no secret that I’ve used this pandemic as a chance to scratch my itch for horror films, and thankfully many of the VOD releases have been in this genre. Sputnik was certainly on my radar after the initial trailer dropped; I might not be familiar with Russian cinema but the effects looked decent, and it sold me thinking it was a foreign language creature feature B movie. This expectation was dashed shortly into the film as Sputnik is a far more thoughtful film than anticipated and far more confident and competent to be written off as a campy B movie.
In 1983, amid the Cold War, two cosmonauts are ready for their descent after completing an orbital research mission when their craft is intercepted by something unknown. When the shuttle is discovered only one has survived and looks a little worse for wear. The surviving cosmonaut, Konstantin, is relocated to a secret facility for study while the Colonel in charge, Semiradov, seeks the help of a disgraced Dr. Tatiana Klimova to analyze him. What Tatiana first diagnoses as PTSD soon becomes something far more horrific as it becomes apparent that Konstantin brought back another passenger with him.
A parasitic extraterrestrial entity is sure to draw comparisons to the horror classic, Alien (the Chestburster practically became a subgenre unto itself), but the similarities more or less end there. Sputnik is more interested in exploring the toll a foreign entity takes on the body and mind and the ethical responsibilities those in authority have in such a bizarre circumstance. Konstantin’s condition is hidden from the public as well as himself as Tatiana conducts interviews to determine Konstantins relationship with the parasite, while the Colonel wants the creature studied thoroughly. The Soviet time period is perfect for exemplifying the cold and calculated approach by many characters. While the initial question is if Konstantin and the entity can be separated, darker questions emerge. Is this an obstacle or opportunity?
Strangely enough, the alien becomes the least interesting element of the film. The real highlights of the film belong to Tatiana and Konstantin’s interviews. Their interactions are multifaceted, neither revealing nor giving away too much but mentally sparring throughout in an exchange to see who’s fortitude crumbles first. Sputnik is full of mystery, there’s bait and switch moments and plenty of cat-and-mouse chatter as each character hold’s their cards to their chests. Trust is a sparse concept amongst these characters as each bend and twist it to fit their objective.
While Sputnik exceeds many of its Hollywood contemporaries in the science fiction genre, especially when it comes to this kind of layered character development, the film falls into the same pitfall of its American cousin by dropping everything interesting for a gung ho third act. As the body count rises exponentially, the mystery and intrigue fades and regrettably as the film becomes predictable. Also, while the design of the creature is inspired, the CGI doesn’t always hold up, especially considering how soon it appears in the film. I enjoyed that the creature wasn’t the front and centre of the movie, but perhaps keeping it shrouded in mystery and darkness for longer could have increased its impact.
Sputnik is a surprisingly solid creature feature with an engaging story, robust characters, a well-explored time period, and unique creature design. Rather than fall into familiar tropes associated with the horror science fiction genre, Sputnik explores larger themes of the human condition, science vs military advancement, and chasing moral solutions. The moments of gratuitous gore and death feel somewhat earned because the film neither embraces it nor condones it, instead it looks at the consequences of it, sacrifice is a word thrown around quite a bit in the film’s runtime. While I expected a modern B movie with solid special effects, instead Sputnik is a thoughtful horror that is not afraid to ask questions.
Rating: 3.5 / 5 Tumblers of Starka