{Movie Review} Sputnik (2020)

“A Cosmonaut’s health is always good”


Egor Abramenko’s debut is unabashedly Russian. The characters suffer. The environment is bleak but most importantly our characters endure. They continue on despite a set of circumstances that should have forced them to stop along time ago. It is also a detailed and thoroughly complete creature feature. It is top notch horror film that manages to avoid the pitfalls of “elevated horror” while also allowing itself to embrace its themes and ideas.

The long and the short of the movie is quite simple. The Russians launched Sputnik with two living beings on it. The two cosmonauts landed with an extra passenger. That alien now lives in Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) and comes out at night to hibernate. Veshnyakov is currently being held at a secret base as Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk), the officer in charge of the mission, races an impending public homecoming to try and separate the alien from the host. He brings in Tatyana Kilmova (Oksana Akinshina), a behavioral psychiatrist to try and find the key.

It is clear from the get go that Abramenko sets off to make a movie about his frustration with the government and beaureacracy. Our hero Tatyana has already found herself in trouble for doing the right thing despite it being the unpopular decision with her superiors and the state. The way the movie embraces individualism, especially in the beginning, makes it feel very American. If not for the final act which embraces individual sacrifices for a collective good you could almost imagine this entire film taking place in the United States. Moreover Abramenko captures the ‘failure is not an option’ bit of Russian hierarchy in such a way that it feels like it and the HBO miniseries Chernobyl are cut from the same cloth. Both seem to really focus on the message If we do not admit when things have gone wrong we cannot hope to fix them. Shit has gone seriously wrong Sputnik.

Akinshina and Fyodorov are both tremendous in their roles. Akinshina as the tactical and cold doctor who is willing to do or say anything to get to the bottom of the what is going on with the imprisoned cosmonaut. Fyodorov as the hero cosmonaut who gets broken down both by the doctor but also by the alien. He starts as a proud and confident hero of Russia but eventually the movie reveals he is just another soldier to be chewed up and spit out by the Soviet Union.

Courtesy of IFC Midnight

Abramenko makes the choice to place the movie during the actual Sputnik space mission. I didn’t understand why at the time. The bottom line is the bones of this movie would work as a modern day alien from the deep creature feature. The director’s choice focuses the movie on cold war Russia which is distinctly different than modern Russia. It enables him to perhaps criticize the current state of the country without stepping on any current government toes. It also creatively allows him to get out of some plot issues a modern movie might have. There are no cell phones or internet so its still possible to keep secrets for a little while. The lack of communication technology also helps the environment feel even more isolated.

The creature is really interesting if not entirely original. It seems to borrow pretty heavily from other alien movies. Its especially creepy when walking around the cell, but I think loses a bit of its effectiveness when it is supposed to be at its scariest, while it is feeding. Overall its design always kept me interested and the idea that a parasite can curl itself back up into your body makes my skin crawl. Its these reveals. The coming and the going of the alien into the body of our sleeping cosmonaut that are pure nightmare fuel. These scenes are almost always done with cutaways or with shadow obscuring the full view. But they remain terrifying in their presentation regardless of how much you actually see.

The final act eschews all of the darkness and shadow and brings our characters and the alien out into the light. It is a gorgeous scene full of heart. It makes the 113 minute runtime worth it. Sputnik opens in select theatres and on VOD August 14th. It should be on your list.

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