Sputnik Review: A cosmonaut returns to Earth with a deadly surprise in Russia’s hit sci-fi thriller

A cosmonaut returns to Earth with a deadly surprise in Russia’s hit sci-fi thriller, Sputnik.

Sputnik is a Russian sci-fi thriller that has wowed global audiences. A smarter than expected script takes the Alien premise in a completely different direction. Dark, moody, and superbly acted, Sputnik drips with palpable tension. The characters true motives aren’t clear until the blood starts spurting. More twists follow as the nasty critter has plans of its own. So Sputnik merits its critical acclaim. But the summer’s best creature feature has arrived stateside.

Sputnik opens in 1983 with two cosmonauts orbiting the Earth. Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) and Kirill Averchenko (Aleksey Demidov) plot their course to enter the atmosphere. The men sing songs together. They look forward to returning home as heroes of the Soviet Union. Konstantin sees something crawl over the viewport. But he must be hallucinating. Suddenly, they hear a banging noise on the capsule door.

In Moscow, Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina), a neurophysiologist with extreme methods, sits at a hearing. A boy has almost died under her care. Tatyana scoffs at the disciplinary review. So She saved the boy’s life. The medical board doesn’t appreciate her insolence. Afterwards, Tatyana is approached by Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk). So he needs her expertise for a secret project critical to national security.

Colonel Semiradov takes Tatyana to a remote research facility on the desolate steppes of Kazakhstan. She is stunned to find Konstantin Veshnyakov being held behind armored glass. Where is his partner, Comrade Averchenko? The colonel informs her that an incident happened in space. But Konstantin Veshnyakov has no memory of its occurrence. He’s also miraculously healed from the capsule’s crash landing. Tatyana is tasked with helping Konstantin to remember what happened. But Her investigation leads to a frightening discovery.

Director Egor Abramenko astounds in his feature film debut. Sputnik’s production design, cinematography, and pacing are perfectly aligned. Abramenko creates a grim atmosphere of oppression, lies, and terror. There are no bright colors or aesthetically pleasing shapes. Everything looks boxy, and muted in a drab grey. The characters slink about with deep suspicion behind their eyes. The strain of being in an eighties Soviet black ops site is clearly evident. Abramenko sets the stage for the carnage to come.

So Sputnik uses standard horror tropes for clever misdirection. Space monster flicks are usually damn predictable. Screenwriters Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev play to that expectation. Sputnik is not a tired rehash of Alien. Intelligent characters pursue their own agendas. The creature isn’t a mindless beast. The film’s second act is particularly entertaining. Tatyana uses…gasp…critical thinking and scientific methodology to reveal the truth. So she’s a dauntless protagonist that grows with the story.

Overall, Sputnik hits the bullseye across multiple genres. The science fiction, horror, and action elements are fantastic. The film has a repeat viewing quality that makes you want to see it again. Avoid spoilers and enjoy the surprises. Egor Abramenko deserves a shot at a big budget Hollywood film. His stock is certainly rising. And Sputnik is a Vodorod production with English subtitles. So it is available now in limited theatrical release and on demand from IFC Midnight.

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