‘Alien’ meets ‘The Thing’ in Russian Debut ‘Sputnik’

A still from 'Sputnik'. A man in a spacesuit is shown in a close-up profile view wearing his full astronaut gear, his helmet is tilted back and his head is covered in blood. The image is lit with blue and red lighting.
IFC Films

These days, where films are concerned, it takes plenty of effort to not only entice audiences but to maintain their interest. Fantasy films aren’t escapist enough; romantic comedies suffer from clichés and cringeworthy pickup lines; superhero films are susceptible to falling down the rabbit hole of visual effects whilst conveying repetitive story arcs. 

Then there’s horror. Arguably, this genre is the most complex, difficult to please the most dedicated fans, what with varying levels of gore and suspense but also having the most innovative potential;. Enter Egor Abramenko’s directorial debut Sputnik: a kaleidoscope of science fiction, horror and thriller that zeroes in on the Cold War era and the lengths man, militia and monster will go to to play the role of conqueror.  

It’s 1983; Russia is under Soviet control. Orbit 4 and the two cosmonauts involved in the mission are set to return to earth when they experience severe complications, which ends in brutal tragedy. As a result, neuropsychiatrist Tatiana Yuievna (Oksana Akinshina) is asked to come and assess Captain Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov), the lone survivor of the space landing, and a victim of amnesia. Upon her arrival at the isolated military base where Veshnyakov is being kept, Tatiana discovers the startling truth about the events surrounding the cosmonauts’ return: the captain of Orbit 4 did not return alone. 

Between the hours of two and three A.M., Veshnyakov unconsciously vomits up an entity of extraterrestrial origin each night in his holding cell; Veshnyakov is unaware of its existence but the longer Tatiana is there, and the further she digs into this unusual case, the more she begins to discover that everyone is harboring ulterior motives – and she’s just been brought into the crossfire. At the command of Comrade Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk), information – the truth – is constantly censored, hindering Tatiana’s ability to try and safely separate the cosmonaut from the alien creature. Though light may illuminate secrets, the deepest darkness can do just the same; soon Tatiana is faced with one simple, yet loaded question: will she, can she —dare she— save a national hero? 

A still from 'Sputnik'. Tatiana (Oksana Akinshina) stands in a doorway blocked by Captain Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov). Both are wearing space boiler suits on board a craft. Veshnyakov holds his finger to his mouth to 'hush' Tatiana.
IFC Films

Reminiscent of 1982’s cult classic The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Alien, Sputnik is a unique take on the age-old question: are we alone in the universe? And, if the answer is an enticingly, terrifying no, what would we do? The film is an interesting flavor of horror, shying away from the heavy reliance on jump scares in favor of a foreboding atmosphere and specifically placed, yet vivid images of gore to call upon those chilling fingers of fear that rake down the spines of viewers. 

The music, though minimal, is used to accentuate the moments of realisation and dread, complimenting the dimness and the plain and dark colour palette of each scene. The cinematography is nothing extraordinary; the characters only venture between a handful of locations.

Regardless of what they say, the way the characters interact with one another can only be described as distant, even cold. It feels as though each of them is operating in some sort of morally gray bubble; here for personal reasons that just so happen to converge with the odd stranger. Akinshina’s performance is removed but as the story follows her, we see her humanity begin to surface on the muddy waters. 

The film’s twists are subtle, more biologically situated than rooted in being horrifying or excessively violent, however, Abramenko’s direction does raise a very interesting question that, surprisingly, many alien-centric films don’t quite [bother to] address: is this creature parasitic or symbiotic? Will one slowly die from its touch or can one coexist with it instead?

Sputnik is a decent choice if you’re in the mood to watch an ominous horror flick on a Friday night, a choice without creepy dolls, chainsaw wielding maniacs or paranormal activity. But ultimately it concludes much as many of its middle-of-the-road predecessors in this genre do: slightly unfulfilling of its potential. 

Sputnik is available in select cinemas and Digital on August 14th

by Kacy Hogg

Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favorite films include the Harry Potter series, CinderellaCaptain America: The Winter SoldierThe Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95

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