I would have to say that so far my luck with Russian horror films has not been good. The last two I have reviewed, 2018’s wet squib The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead and 2016’s car crash Paranormal Drive, did not do the nation proud. In fact they tainted me so much that when I was faced with new Russian Sci-Horror Sputnik I was a little fearful and not for the right reasons.
Thankfully first time feature director Egor Abramenko has crafted a movie of a far different calibre from what I had seen coming out of his home country previously. From a script by Egor Abramenko and Andrei Zolotarev, Sputnik opens in 1983 as two cosmonauts are completing a mission in space that has been relatively uneventful. In the final stages something goes wrong and the pair see a menacing and mysterious shape skim across their ship.
Moments later the pair have crash landed on Earth and only Konstantin Veshnyakov (The Darkest Hour’s Pyotr Fyodorov) has survived with his team mate horribly mutilated in the wreckage. Taken to a secretive secure facility the national hero is imprisoned as a gaggle of military scientist and top brass try to work out what really happened.
Unable to uncover the truth behind the incident the head of the operation recruits astute and unconventional psychologist Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina from The Bourne Supremacy) to take a look at Konstantin. However she soon discovers there is more to the man she is analysing than it seems as something is inside him, something she has never seen before and that something only comes out at night.
Setting the story at the height of the Cold War and using Russia’s legendary space program as a jump off for a twisted Science Fiction horror story is inspired especially as the script injects plenty of comment on the state itself with cover-ups, misinformation and secret operations aplenty.
Tatyana is an unconventional Russian hero for the setting and other characters frequently comment on her inability to follow orders. Playing out partially like a Russian take on Marvel’s anti-hero Venom, Sputnik offers up a fascinating horror concept with the alien creature literally using the astronaut as a spacesuit to survive on Earth. The question Tatyana is faced with is whether the creature is symbiotic and parasitic and what does it want but the clock is ticking as pressure to get results weighs down on her.
Truly unsettling the special effects are excellent and the creature creation very well done offering us an original extra-terrestrial being rather than the usual carbon copy monster we see in cinema these days. That said Sputnik is not all spectacle and the solid script and excellent acting elevate it above the schlocky gore fest it could have been in another filmmakers hands.
Blending Arrival and Species with Silence of the Lambs although there are moments of action and violence Sputnik is fundamentally a psychological character study and the most interesting sections are those between the two leads as they play mind games with each other.
Proving Russian horror truly has a place at the table Sputnik is a great combination of thought provoking Science Fiction and full on fear. A gripping tale brought to life with some amazing effects; you will be captivated and revolted all at the same time.