Joseph’s Review: Sputnik

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

This Russian take on a cosmic creature wreaking havoc on Earth is a winning effort that boasts crackerjack performances and engrossing monster mayhem scenes.

Directed by Egor Abramenko

The Russian science fiction/horror outing Sputnik (2020) is an intriguing take on the trope of a monster from outer space finding its way to Earth. Though director Egor Abramenko’s feature often follows familiar beats, it also offers a unique take on matters, and is highlighted by top-notch performances and marvelous creature-feature sequences.

Commander Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) and his co-pilot are on their descent back to Earth as they wrap up a space mission in 1983. Some technical problems occur, and viewers can see that something unusual is within the cosmonaut’s sights, just outside their capsule’s windows. They land, though certainly not where they were supposed to and absolutely not as safely as planned. 

Scary DVDs! Woo!

Meanwhile, neuropsychiatric doctor Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) has just been reprimanded for taking controversial measures on a young patient. Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk) is impressed by her maverick actions, and invites her to help him at the military facility where the cosmonauts are being kept. He needs her assistance with Veshnyakov because another doctor (Anton Vasilev) has been unsuccessful with treatment so far. 

Finding herself being kept at the facility against her will and being met with secrecy and professional jealousy at every turn, Klimova soon learns that Veshnyakov is host to an alien parasite — and not a small one — with a very particular diet. That is only the beginning, though, because the more deeply Klimova gets to know about her patient and the more involved she becomes with the truths that she uncovers, the more dangerous the different elements of the project become for all involved. 

Though Sputnik does contain many of the tropes found in science fiction creature-feature cinema since at least the 1950s, screenwriters Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev provide a nice amount of character study and political intrigue that lifts this film well above average efforts. Klimova and Veshnyakov in particular have complex back stories that make the film’s climax effective. 

International science fiction films often get knocked for not having special effects up to big-budget Hollywood standards, but the effects here — particularly those involving the alien parasite — look impressive, and are a far cry stronger than many Hollywood mid-budget space-fare offerings. The creature’s design is cool, and its attacks are also admirable in the gore effects department. The production design overall is wonderful, and Maxim Zhukov’s cinematography captures everything gorgeously.

The cast is first-rate throughout, with Akinshina outstanding as the no-nonsense, conflicted Klimova and Fyodorov also great as the troubled — to put it mildly —  Veshnyakov. Bondarchuk is delightfully wicked as the main human antagonist, and Vasiliev does a fine job as another of Klimova’s foils.

Abramenko helms Sputnik beautifully, tackling both human and political drama as admirably as action and horror sequences. A likely candidate for my 2020 list of top 10 genre films, Sputnik is highly recommended for creature-feature and science fiction fans.

Sputnik, from IFC Midnight, is available in select theaters, and on digital and cable VOD from August 14. 

Review by Joseph Perry

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