Sputnik (Film Review)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: After a Soviet cosmonaut, Konstantin, returns from space covered in blood, it is soon discovered that living inside him is an extraterrestrial being that exits his body at night. Now, a scientist named Tatyana has to figure out exactly what this creature is and what it means for Konstantin and the future of the Soviet Union. 

REVIEW:  As far as bleak, dark creature features from Russia go, SPUTNIK is surprisingly heartfelt and hopeful. Oh, it’s definitely very much bleak, dark and Russian, with a cold atmosphere matching every character’s constant seriousness.  And yet, as dour and lacking in consistent chills as the movie is, you may find yourself surprisingly compelled by what it’s trying to accomplish by getting you to contemplate more on the very existential nature of a vicious, little alien creature and less on the grisly violence it’s capable of – which ends up being quite a lot.

After the opening minutes – in which Soviet cosmonauts in 1983 are talking about what they’ll do first upon returning home, only to notice something sinister is lurking outside their vessel – I noticed director Egor Abramenko isn’t interesting in leaning into the obvious, fun nature of a sci-fi alien flick. Instead, working with cinematographer Maxim Zhukov, his genre entry comes off more like an art-house film, as if Todd Haynes decided to do a modern alien feature. Minimalist production design and staging, and lighting that makes the confines of a secret compound feel as cold and inhuman as the vacuum of space all go a long way in emphasizing the very human but unsettling story at its core, even when a creature capable of ripping everything to shreds lingers nearby.

Said creature is truly grotesque as if the Face Hugger from ALIEN (a movie this very much harkens back to) got it on with a squid and exists by living as a host inside the surviving cosmonaut, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov). At a certain time of night, it exits the body of its poor host (who is left unconscious on the floor) and does its general creepy business while being studied by Russian scientists/military personnel. Enter neurophysiologist Tatyana (Oksana Akinshina), a woman disgraced from the scientific community for nearly drowning someone to cure their mental illness, who is brought in to study Konstantin and the creature from the other side of the glass, very much calling to mind Alex Garland’s EX MACHINA, albeit with a less charming subject. The more and more Tatyana investigates, it becomes clear Konstantin connects more with the creature than previously believed, which begs more questions about the symbiotic nature of him and the little extraterrestrial bugger.

Casual viewers may be expecting – and perhaps even hoping for – something with a bit more terror and gore, but this movie ain’t that. The script from Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev spends way more time with the sullen conversations between characters about what to do about the creature. At opposition with Tatyana – who cares more about Konstantin, his guilt over abandoning his son to live in space, and how the creature living in him represents a fate he's doomed to — is Colonel Semiradov who, embodying the Soviet-era military complex, tries to keep the new discovery locked away and analyzed to use for something, I don’t know, a bit nefarious, given his scowl.

For fans of movies like EX MACHINA, which are approaching the genre from a more intellectual, existential position, there is much to find intriguing about SPUTNIK as it explores man’s relationship with alien life, and working as a subtextual analysis of the Union as a whole. But that also means it’s not an easy or always engaging watch. There’s the cold, monotonous tone and slow pacing that isn’t aided by the low-key mystery and suspense. Perhaps it’s the American viewer in me that expects a more palpable sense of energy from anything featuring a vicious alien creature, but there’s no denying the lack of urgency for most of the runtime, and the script doesn’t give the actors much in the way of personality outside of being all business. Also factor in some unneeded filler with a side story involving Konstantin's son, which feels like it belongs in a different film altogether. 

But, of course, the filmmakers know a movie like this can’t be without at least some dose of violence. Come the final act, there are some moments where the creature is unleashed to slash and devour, with a healthy amount of deep red blood splashing about. I do expect some viewers to find this too little too late, but come the end it certainly feels like the right amount of violence given what more the filmmakers were trying to accomplish on a humanistic level. What you may find more impactful by the end is less the violence and more Tatyana's ability to emotionally connect with Konstantin and his alien parasite, feeling they both deserve their chance at freedom. 

On the whole, while SPUTNIK doesn’t always succeed in being an engaging film thanks to strictness in tone and execution, what it does accomplish is offering something that will get people to think less about the grotesqueness of the creature, and more about the meaning of its existence and what humanistic qualities it has. That means it’s not quite the midnight creature feature you’re looking for, but it is a solid entry in the Person Studying Something Non-Human Through Glass, Connecting With It, Then Letting it Out cinematic universe.




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Source: JoBlo.com

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