A lot of people compared this Russian sci-fi horror film to the 1979 Ridley Scott film Alien when it first came out, and rightly so. The general concept of Sputnik (Спутник) could be a sister to Alien, and when you throw some Splice and Life influences into the mix, it’s clear to see where director Egor Abramenko drew inspiration from. However, I would never make the claim that Sputnik is a rip-off of any of these films but rather a descendent of them all with its own unique take on the stowaway alien tale. It’s been a year since this film’s release but I’m here to remind people of its existance and to advise them in giving it a try. You won’t regret it.
Released in 2020, Sputnik is Abramenko’s directorial debut that stars Oksana Akinshina as the brilliant physician-neurophysiologist, Tatyana Yuryevna Klimova, a fantastic no-nonsense woman whom I love.
Infamous for her methods, Tanya is considered a controversial topic in her field because she takes risks that other doctors might consider extreme or unethical, and it’s this reputation that gathers the attention of Colonel Semiradov, the head of an isolated military facility. He wants her to take a look at a young cosmonaut, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov), the only survivor of a two-man space excavation who has become inhabited by an alien creature that needs a host to survive. The Colonel wants Tanya to figure out a way to separate the two without harming either host or visitor.
That’s when the real terror begins.
(minor spoilers below)
As the relationship between Tanya and Konstantin grows, so does her understanding of the alien and of the compound that she’s more or less trapped in. A delicate balance between intensity and tranquility ensures that despite the touching moments between doctor and patient, we’re never able to completely shake the tight grip that the film holds over us. Even moments of calm feel suffocating. Tanya senses that things aren’t quite what they seem and that Colonel is hiding something, and the more suspicious she becomes, the more threatening the very air around her feels.
At the center of it all is the mysterious alien, the Hannibal Lecter to Tanya’s Will Graham, who is not quite the monster, or villain, that we expect.
A true stand-out detail of this film is the way that it treats the alien. It treats it as if it’s just another animal, in that what it does or how it feeds cannot be controlled or altered because that is its nature. There is nothing coherently “bad” about it.
This is a route not commonly taken in this genre, where any life outside Earth is usually seen as a force of pure evil that almost revels in the lives that it takes or more likely, portrayed as mindless killing machines, but Sputnik clearly doesn’t see this slimy extraterrestrial as the villain. Only as a factor to a much larger problem. Once the creature is actually relieved to Tanya, the mystery moves on to something else with the little guy, who is actually kind of cute and looks like a gremlin with a fishtail, playing a type of supporting character.
In the end, Sputnik is a film about human connection. Although it may contain an alien creature, it’s much more science-based, and emotive than I expected and carries with it a political Soviet-era twist throughout the film, only one scene actually takes place in space. Also if you’re wondering why the film is called Sputnik despite taking place in 1983 and never once mentions the famous launch of the Sputnik ship in 1957, it’s because the word “sputnik” roughly translates to “fellow traveler” or “companion.” Some lessons on language for you.
If we’re going to rank all the man-eating space aliens movies together I definitely would put this movie in the top five, a decent sci-fi horror film that leaves you feeling that it was more violent than it actually was. If you won’t take my word for it, take Fangoria’s because Sputnik was nominated for Best International Movie at the 2021 Chainsaw Awards. It didn’t win, but it’s still an honor to be nominated (La Llorona won by the way).(4 / 5)
Photos property of Art Pictures Studio and Sony Pictures