Where most sci-fi horror films bring the alien on board a spaceship to wreak havoc, ‘Sputnik‘ decides to take the action with them to good old planet Earth. This Russian creature feature could easily be described as ‘Arrival‘ meets ‘Life‘, but stands on its own two feet with its somber cinematography and terrific performances. “A cosmonaut’s health is always good“, but can he also survive a symbiote residing inside him?

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the earth’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik I. The successful launch came as a shock to experts and citizens in the United States, who had hoped that the United States would accomplish this scientific advancement first. The fact that the Soviets were successful fed fears that the U.S. military had generally fallen behind in developing new technology. As a result, the launch of Sputnik served to intensify the arms race and raise Cold War tensions. During the 1950s, both the United States and the Soviet Union were working to develop new technology. Sputnik remained in orbit for roughly three months, when it re-entered and burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.

The sci-fi horror movie Sputnik took inspiration from these events as a Russian craft crash-lands in Kazakhstan with Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov – ‘The Darkest Hour‘) as the sole survivor. When scientist Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina – ‘The Bourne Supremacy‘) gets asked by Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk – ‘The Lenin Factor‘) to examine the cosmonaut at a secret facility far away from Moscow, she soon finds out there’s more to Veshnyakov’s health problems than meets the eye. As it turns out, his body works as some sort of spacesuit for an alien that feeds off him. As this cosmonaut becomes dependent of the extra-terrestrial being, it becomes clear the host and visitor share one conscious mind. The symbiote was responsible for Veshnyakov’s speedy recovery after the crash, but is now using his host to adapt to Earth’s atmosphere and slowly grows stronger to become an independent life force that feeds on the Sputnik crew member’s cortisol levels. It’s up to Tatyana to find a way to split them up and contain what doesn’t belong here.

Director Egor Abramenko‘s first feature film is a gripping sci-fi horror that looks and sounds great. The set design is simple, but effectively engineered, to give that confining feeling of imprisonment. Oleg Karpachev‘s epic score fits wonderfully with the ongoing flawless sound design and even though there’s a lot of dialogue, at least the film doesn’t fall flat at any given moment. The cast is enthusiastic and give convincing performances, and while we mostly focus on what’s happening in the All-Union Scientific Research Institute, the film also flashes back occasionally to a side-story that has to do with Veshnyakov’s abandoned son. This makes for a more emotional background, without ever going full melodrama. Akinshina plays the role of Tatyana quite cold, but does it so well. She gets a few opportunities to dig deeper into her character’s psyche when facing the alien, in search for a connection others rather ignore. Fyodorov and Bondarchuk are both able to convey a lot with so little, with the latter perfectly balancing Colonel Semiradov’s personality between caring and threatening.

The film has a more somber cinematography to really set the mood. ‘Sputnik‘ opens with a breathtaking shot of the spacecraft looking down on Earth from space. The constant tension that follows keeps you on the edge of your seat, until the end credits start rolling. What’s most impressive is the creature itself, being all slimy, pale and bony with screeching sound effects to truly make it as terrifying as possible. Whenever the alien comes on screen, you can expect some sort of bloodshed, as it reacts unexpectedly to behaviour, sound and its surroundings. Especially when you get a good look at it in broad daylight, the visual effects are truly impressive. Besides these technicalities, you have to applaud the writers for filling the film with scientifically accurate terms you rarely pick up on in these kind of films. The film also has enough depth and twists to keep you entertained and involved until the very end.

Sputnik is a surprisingly well made monster flick. Abramenko’s confident direction successfully translates into an instant hit, something you don’t expect from a first feature. Memorable creature design and an engaging cast make for a compelling sci-fi horror that’s better than most Hollywood productions, without shying away from gory blood splatter, crazy cover-ups and ace action sequences.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

NSW: Ritz Randwick & Dendy Newtown / ACT: Dendy Canberra / Qld: Dendy Cooparoo / SA: Wallis Cinemas

From October 1 until October 14 it will also be available to rent via Foxtel and Fetch and will thereafter screen on digital home entertainment from 28 October.

Review – ‘Sputnik’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), September 24, 2020. Rating: MA15+ Running time: 113 min.

PRODUCTION: A Rialto Distribution release of an Art Pictures Studio, Hype Film, Vodorod production. Producers: Aleksandr Andryushchenko, Fedor Bondarchuk, Pavel Burya, Vyacheslav Murugov, Murad Osmann, Ilya Stewart, Mikhail Vrubel. Executive producer: Michael Kitaev.

CREW: Director: Egor Abramenko. Screenplay: Oleg Malovichko, Andrey Zolotarev. Cinematography: Maxim Zhukov. Score: Oleg Karpachev.

WITH: Oksana Akinshina, Fedor Bondarchuk, Pyotr Fyodorov, Anton Vasilev.

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