The nifty alien cold war invasion thriller from first-time director Egor Abramenko is not groundbreaking, but draws on real fears.
"Alien" casts a huge shadow on "Sputnik", a nifty alien invasion thriller from the Cold War by first-time director Egor Abramenko, which threatens to swallow the entire film. Fortunately, Abramenko sneaks into a new corner before the breast-bursting alien chaos takes control. “Sputnik” starts with a sophisticated and eerie first act and initially feels like a slow-burning laboratory thriller that is rarely shot these days, but feels more topical than ever before. Russian machinations? Medical phenomena confusing modern science? You don't say that!
Unfortunately, the analogy doesn't go much further. But before “Sputnik” turns into a run-and-gun routine that feels like it's used to, it's a gripping and crude B-movie that becomes even more fascinating due to the temporal setting that contains its own connotations. It's 1983, and after a trio of cosmonauts hit Earth under dubious circumstances in the dark of night, one ends up dead, another in a coma, and a third cannot remember what happened. This is Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov), who is locked in a laboratory in which the young doctor Tatiana Yurievna (Oksana Akinshina) is being brought to the secret military compound for gloomy reasons. Once there, she gets the creepy picture: During the day Constantine sits in quarantine, confused about his experiences outside the planet and why he was imprisoned; At night, the truth comes out – literally – when a slimy, spindle-shaped creature climbs out of its body and grinds its sharp teeth in search of a nightly snack.
"Sputnik" is a blockbuster hit in its homeland and doesn't deliver the most innovative onscreen monster, but it effectively embodies the creepiness of its existence (at around $ 2.5 million, it creates a solid, budget-friendly atmosphere mostly in one place stay). Tatiana, whose career has already been marred by a previous professional crisis and does not trust the agendas of the authorities who have included her on this assignment, brings substance into an otherwise familiar cycle. When “Sputnik” hovers in the layers of bureaucratic secrecy that surround the nature of their mission and their general distrust of the forces of kitsch villain Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk), science fiction is rooting deeper questions of institutional control. "Sputnik" makes it clear early on that evil comes again from within.
But when Tatiana witnesses the carnivorous creature unleashed and the bloody prospects of the Soviet military to harness its power, her shock resonates because the creature chases after fear. So also the film, which takes a lot of miles out of the basic discomfort associated with watching his gross invention.
On average, this monster has nothing to do with Xenomorph – and "Sputnik" never gains enough substance to compensate for the derived heart. As Tatiana bonds with the imprisoned astronaut and ponders an escape plan, the film gradually evolves into a goofy series of car chases and shootouts avoiding innovations and surprises for cacophonic sound effects and shocked expressions.
It's clear that Abramenko did his alien homework and understood – like Ridley Scott's 1980 staple food so well – that these scenarios have as much to do with the survivors as they do with the ruthless thing from another world. This film barely manages to give its characters a reason to endure the ordeal before going into action mode, as if working overtime to distract the country's censors from noticing the institutional reviews.
Nevertheless, Akinshina is a commanding New Age Ripley who plays a wild and determined woman who wants to defend herself against forces that she can only partially understand. "Sputnik" gives her plenty of room to stare at the authorities before selling her shorts, and she deserves more opportunities to play a troubled warrior facing ethical dilemmas, perhaps those with better scripts. “Sputnik” appears in the middle of a summer blockbuster season with no Hollywood blockbusters and is reminiscent of the mixed-bag experience that so many of them offer: It's an efficient, effects-driven ride with snippets of real ideas, but never quite ready to take them off to take out of this world.
Grade: C +
IFC Midnight is releasing “Sputnik” in selected cinemas, digital, cable and VoD this Friday, August 14th.