Review: Russia's 'Sputnik' combines sci-fi, horror and Cold War tropes to great effect

Pyotr Fyodorov as “Konstantin Veshnyakov” in Egor Abramenko’s SPUTNIK. Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight Release.

3.5 out of 5 Stars
Egor Abramenko
Writer: Oleg Malovichko, Andrei Zolotarev
Starring: Oksana Akinshina, Fedor Bondarchuk, Pyotr Fyodorov
Genre: Sci-fi, Horror
Rated: Unrated

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Synopsis: In 1983, two cosmonauts returning from an orbital mission are attacked by a creature just as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Only one survives, but his ability to quickly heal from his injuries raises suspicion. Tucked away in a military lab, the cosmonaut is closely studied by scientists and military officials.

Review: Like most 2020 films, “Sputnik” was intended to be experienced in a cinema, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the movie to make its debut on a variety of Russian streaming services where it was watched by more than one million people. Those numbers made the movie the most-streamed title in Russia in the past two years.

Popularity doesn’t guarantee quality, but in this case the public’s enthusiasm is mirrored by the film’s use of sci-fi tropes, Cold War era politics and an effective amount of horror. “Sputnik” isn’t dominated by violence, but those scenes are among the film’s most unforgettable. The most memorable being a mix of “Alien” and a David Cronenberg body horror films from the 1970s (which seem to be a major source of influence on contemporary horror/thrillers right now).

The characters are all flawed. Some by ambition, others by a desire and willingness to work outside of what is traditionally allowed or considered ethical. They each incorporate a “means to an end” policy with varying and an often-evolving senses of morality. Their actions seem motivated and plausible. It’s not high art, but it is sturdy screenwriting.

I found a subplot that takes place in an orphanage to be an unnecessary bit of misdirection. It does provide something of a twist, but it is primarily just a distraction that slows the momentum of the main narrative. If you’re paying attention, the surprise is revealed from the start. I initially thought it was a translation error.

If you like a mixture of horror and sci-fi with a different political subtext, “Sputnik” comes highly recommended.

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