Sputnik is an alien invasion thriller with a Soviet twist – two cosmonauts were sent to space and three came back. It will inevitably get comparisons with Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, but director Egor Abramenko has enough tricks up his sleeve to give the movie its own personality.
It’s the year 1983, the Soviet Union. Psychologist Tatyana Klimova is recruited by Colonel Semiradov to examine Konstantin Veshnyakov in a research facility. Another doctor, Yan Rigel, attempts to find out what exactly happened to the patient in space, but his methods couldn’t get past Veshnyakov’s episodic amnesia.
This sounds like a plot ripped out of a B-movie, but Sputnik is well-executed enough to be a good one. Thanks to efficient storytelling, well-executed pacing, and characters you can root for, Sputnik is an engaging genre film.
A big chunk of the movie is set in one location, but the period setting helps in pulling you into this late Cold War era where toggle switches and CRT displays were the latest tech.
The movie uses this backdrop to great effect. Grayscale thermal scanning shows a slithery creature emerge in black and white as Kilmanova watches on a monitor. The reveal is grossly effective, even if there’s already plenty of creature feature movies that had been done before.
Sputnik adds characters who have their own motivations, so the story remains focused on the humans rather than the CGI. Both Kilamanova and Semiradov are willing to take the risk to get results, while Veshnyakov and Rigel are doing what they can to survive.
Performances are great that you see another layer to what initially looks like a conventional alien story.
“I don’t believe in orders. It’s human nature. Order’s are not effective on highly intelligent people,” says Semiradov at the beginning of the movie.
“Interesting. Isn’t the anti-soviet?” Kilmanova replies.
The movie’s alien is an apt allegory to institutional control and how the enemy is from within. You can also see how these two factors affect people. The characters are well-meaning yet misguided individuals constrained in a system that has forced them to adapt in their own way.
Unfortunately, Sputnik doesn’t develop these ideas further, as the third act devolved into an anti-climactic chase. The action is perfunctory. There are a few interesting moments here with the creature, but it’s doesn’t really have anything unique to become memorable.
Overall, Sputnik is still an enjoyable movie that makes you think, even if its thought-provoking ideas are left unpacked.
Sputnik makes the most out of its genre conventions through an engaging story, great performances, and visual flair.