How 'Sputnik' Puts a Unique Spin on Sci-Fi Horror
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Director Egor Abramenko's first feature film brought a new science fiction film monster to Russia in 1983.

I've spent enough time obsessing over space exploration, Laika, and Ridley Scott's alien that I knew this movie was for me. And in a summer without big blockbuster films, IFC Midnight & # 39; s Sputnik, directed by Egor Abramenko, steps right into the void. It was filmed in Moscow for a few million dollars, but it feels expansive, has strong performances all round, and takes advantage of some really stunning locations. The alien in Sputnik will satisfy horror fans with every slimy, bloodthirsty appearance.

An Orbit-4 with three cosmonauts lands in Sputnik in Soviet Kazakhstan. Only one crew member, Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov), appears intact, but with no memories of the crash. He is taken to a secret government facility where psychologist Tatiana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) is accused of discovering the truth. She soon learns that Veshnyakov has brought back an alien parasite that slips out of his mouth every night, and government colleague Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk) is hoping to use the creature as a weapon.

Period setting is another strength. In this story, it's 1983 and the Cold War is looming. Tatiana Klimova distrusts the military machine responsible for the entire operation and challenges authority at every turn. Her perspective gives the film a human focus as she cares more about her Veshnyakov and less about turning the alien into a new Soviet war machine.

Abramenko was kind enough to speak to No Film School about Zoom to tell how he made his first feature film. Let us begin!

His "second film school"

Abramenko graduated The Gerasimov Institute for Cinematography in 2009. As a new, young director, he switched to commercials and music videos, working with brands like Google, BMW, Visa, Samsung and Budweiser. He calls this work his "second film school".

"When I graduated from film school, I was literally (a) kid," he said. "I was 21 when I graduated … and I didn't know what to do, what kind of films to make. I decided to try music videos and commercials and shorthand, which helped me a lot. It got me helped to polish my craft. To understand what kind of tools I liked, what I admire. What is the best tool to achieve certain emotions, create tension, create sequences of action? "

In 2017 he made a short film called The Passenger. It was recorded for Fantastic Fest that year and eventually became a proof of concept for Sputnik.


Recognition: IFC midnight

The film's greatest challenge

Aside from the normal problems a project has with staying on schedule and on budget, one of the biggest challenges Abramenko faced was coming up with an idea that went beyond a normal, superficial sci-fi horror story.

"I think we chose that genre from the start, space horror," he said. "But we didn't want to do just another 'summer movie'. This genre, (this) aesthetic, this feeling of fear, of terror was just the starting point to tell a story. The biggest challenge I would say was to combine the universal human drama elements with this genre. "

Viewers, he said, might expect a certain number of action sequences or be scared when they watch genre films. But that can get predictable and make your characters thin and disjointed.

"This genre, (this) aesthetic, this feeling of fear, of terror was just the starting point to tell a story."

"We wanted to give it some depth," he said. "To fill the story with three-dimensional characters, with complex characters. And as I said, to tell a universal human drama."

Large conceptual films are often based on a single idea, or perhaps a keyframe, during the development phase, and writers and directors can sometimes forget to include story elements such as relationships, well-developed characters or themes. But Sputnik does the extra work of concretizing characters and giving some clear motivations that reveal more and more about them as the story progresses, including a surprise in the final act that adds extra understanding to a character's actions.

Although it was a challenge for Abramenko, the hard work is paying off. Even the film's alien gets that worry.

"We decided to treat our creature as a character rather than a visual element," he said. "A character who has his own beat, who has his goal."

Without bothering too much with spoilers, the alien even has some human traits that make it more convincing than a simple killing machine. (How? You have to see the movie to find out.)

Oksana Akinshina as "Tatyana Klimova" and director Egor Abramenko on the set of SPUTNIK. Courtesy IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight Release.
Recognition: IFC midnight

The importance of the location

There are some great places in Sputnik. The crash site is a dark field under diffuse light as smoke and snow swirl. Later, the travel sequence to the secret facility reveals a beautiful landscape of gentle plains and distant mountains, all brown and hazy and barren, and takes the viewer into the brutalist architecture of the military compound.

Most of the film takes place in this connection. The actual location was that Institute of Biochemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences, built in 1959, which was the perfect Soviet representation of long corridors and claustrophobic laboratories.

"We wanted to convey a very authentic feeling for the Soviet era from the start," he said. "And we wanted to find the real places that reflect the real story. On the other hand, we wanted these places, these indoor or outdoor spaces, to meet the needs of the story. The feeling of fear, the feeling of tension. We realized that Brutalism in terms of graphics and architecture is a great style that suits our atmosphere. And it was very popular in the Soviet Union. "

Almost 70% of the film was shot on site. For other parts of the production, a containment set was set up on a sound stage.

Director Egor Abramenko and Fedor Bondarchuk as "Semiradov" on the set of SPUTNIK. Courtesy IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight Release.
Director Egor Abramenko and Fedor Bondarchuk as "Semiradov" on the set of SPUTNIK.Recognition: IFC midnight

What's next for the director?

Abramenko spoke about his experience with Sputnik as a learning experience. When asked if he would have done anything else for the alien VFX, he laughed.

"Sure, I would do everything differently," he said. "That's, I think, in a way, the pleasure of making films. You do something, you do (mistakes), then you fix it in the next film. You do it completely differently."

He continues to watch movies and read quarantined books. He remains inspired as he works on some new science fiction projects and researches ideas about aliens and artificial intelligence.

Sputnik will open in selected cinemas, on digital platforms and on VoD August 14th.

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