Written by: Matt Patti | August 12th, 2020
Sputnik (Egor Abramenko, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Taking place in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, Sputnik is a suspense-filled sci-fi creature-feature involving a cosmonaut who returns from space with an alien parasite. Abramenko’s taut thriller is in the same vein of the immensely successful Alien franchise, and the film has many similarities to the films in that franchise. However, dare I say that Sputnik may have an even more intriguing creature as its focal point than Alien‘s uber-popular Xenomorph. Also, unlike some of the action-packed, survival horror films of the Alien franchise, Sputnik takes a slower, more interesting, scientific approach to really study the creature at the center of the film.
The story of Sputnik begins with two cosmonauts in space who are nearing the end of their orbit and looking forward to returning home. However, they see a strange white substance outside their spaceship. Fast-forward past this moment, and a man discovers the two cosmonauts stranded in an open field on Earth. Their spaceship has crashed, and one of them has died, with his head split open. The other, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov, The Duelist), is walking just fine, but is quite beaten up. The Soviets take Konstantin back to a secret facility to be tested where they find he is acting quite strangely and cannot remember certain details of the space flight. An official at the station enlists the help of disgraced doctor Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina, Quiet Comes the Dawn), a woman who is often criticized for the risks she takes when helping patients. They believe that her risk-taking could be exactly what Konstantin needs. Through many trials and tests she measures Konstantin’s behavior and discovers that he has brought back a strange, dangerous parasitic creature from space that has attached itself to him. Can Tatyana find a way to separate the parasite from its host and save Konstantin, while also preserving the creature for the Soviet scientists to study?
Sputnik is interesting on multiple levels and has many moving parts to it that always keep things interesting and fresh. The characters are all interesting and have different motives for different reasons, and it is difficult to choose who to root for and to determine who is doing the right thing. The protagonists and antagonists in the film shift throughout, providing many twists and turns and leaving the viewer unsure of who to trust and who really knows best. Our main protagonist, Tatyana, takes extreme measures to test both Konstantin and the alien creature that put herself and others in harm’s way. Even so, she is their best hope at saving Konstantin and figuring out the creature’s tendencies. The scientists at the station question her methods, and some have their own agenda, providing a tense atmosphere where the stakes are high and failure is not welcome.
The most interesting aspect of the film though is the creature, itself. At first it seems similar to the Xenomorphs from Alien, but through further study throughout the film we find that it is an entirely different animal. In fact, I’d say it is one of the most unique and intriguing creatures I’ve seen in a film. The audience finds out more and more about the creature as the film goes on, and what at first seems like a typical alien monster turns out to be a very complex, advanced being. The connection between Konstantin and the alien creature is also fascinating to explore and well fleshed-out, as the scientists and doctors ponder if the relationship is really parasitic, or symbiotic.
In addition to interesting characters and a fascinating central creature, the film also features some great suspenseful moments, good sustained tension, and an ominous, foreboding soundtrack that works well for the most part, but is overused at some points. Unfortunately, the film is not without its flaws, many of which reside in the plot and storytelling devices. The film, although slow in terms of action scenes, moves quite quickly at a brisk pace. It doesn’t give the viewer enough time to settle down and ponder a great new discovery the characters make before they are already discovering something else. Also, Tatyana discovers things far too quickly and easily, without much logic as to why or how she made the discovery. There are moments in the film where she simply states some new information about the creature, but the process of obtaining that information is never shown to the audience.
On the other side of the spectrum, a few plot events you can see coming, and even some twists, are a bit predictable. Although most of the twists work, there are perhaps one or two too many twists, as there ends up being so many in the end that some of those, too, become predictable. However, I can put some of my issues with the plot aside because the other aspects of the film are so engaging and unique. Overall, Sputnik rides its interesting characters and intriguing creature design all the way home, keeping viewer interest high, despite some bumps along the way.