For a directorial feature debut, Egor Abramenko is able to inject a thrilling, psychological piece that despite not necessarily offering anything new, does deliver a solid dramatical experience. This Russian entry into symbiotic alien invasion, creature feature horror plays its strength through grounding the fantastical elements into something that feels real.
Whilst most people would associate the name Sputnik with one of Russia’s finest achievements in space as the first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth, it’s literal translation into the English language can mean ‘travelling companion’, both interpretations can be closely connected with this film. The film is set in 1983, towards the end of the Cold War, when two cosmonauts encounter a strange experience on their return journey back to Earth; an encounter that leaves only one human survivor, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov). His partner Averchenko is revealed to have had his skull ripped open and Konstantin clearly inhabiting unspeakable ills with an unknown entity harbouring inside his body. At this stage it is unclear if Konstantin is possessed or something far more sinister, but his ‘travelling companion’ will definitely become more clear as the story unfolds. This creature too, could spell a new world for the Soviet Union, with the first human encounter with an alien species.
What extent could this finding have on the country and the world is part of what fuels the narrative, and we’re led through this paranormal investigation through physician neuro-scientist Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina), and her controversial hard-hitting approach that brings her before Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk), the man in charge of finding out what exactly is lurking inside of Konstantin’s human frame. Tatyana is instantly likeable despite her cold demeanor, thanks to Akinshina’s performance offering a glimpse of humanity and frailty beneath the tough exterior.
Much like Konstantin’s condition, Sputnik holds a cool exterior but buried beneath each character is a warren of emotions and in some cases when unleashed can herald some darkly disturbing truths. Konstantin himself is troubled by abandoning his son to an orphanage and therefore feels that the alien infestation is no more than what he deserves for his past actions. Semiradov also likes to keep things close to his chest and the more we learn about his motives, the more shadowy his methods appear. This is Tatyana’s story though and the biggest twist in her character arc doesn’t rise to the surface until the film’s epilogue, but is worth the wait.
Sputnik must rest on its depiction of the alien and with some incredible visual effects brings a stunning creature that invokes a combination of fear and vulnerability that spreads dread through the hearts of all those that interact with it. Fueling this animosity is much like the human fear of the unknown is that our own interpretations foster at night when we too are at our weakest.
Sputnik deserves high praise and is worth your time and attention, a journey into the core of humanity, ripping it apart the soul and unleashing cortisol from which fear and our base animalistic minds can feast upon.
IN CINEMAS NATIONALLY OCTOBER 1
- Saul Muerte