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John’s Horror Corner: Sputnik (2020), a thoughtful, tense, atmospheric Russian Sci-Horror creature feature.

January 21, 2021

MY CALL: This is top-notch science fiction, complete with horror like action and a fantastic monster, and gift-wrapped in an atmospheric thriller. Huge recommendation. I loved this! MORE MOVIES LIKE Sputnik: The best double-feature suggestion I have for this would be Life (2017). Distantly related, much less pithy, and more to the tune of grimy 80s Sci-Horror are such movies Moontrap (1989) and The Dark Side of the Moon (1990).

Set in Soviet Kazakhstan 1983, this film’s opening very much has the vibe of the ending of Life (2017), only much calmer, as a two-man re-entry pod returns from Earth’s orbit with one survivor. We learn our astronaut survivor Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov; The Blackout, Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident) has amnesia after an incident occurred in space prior to his landing, much as in Species 2 (1998). Doctor Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina; The Bourne Supremacy) is recruited to examine him and safely separate the internal alien passenger from its human host.

Director Egor Abramenko’s first feature film is crafted with high proficiency. The photography, cinematography and editing are solid, boasting some great shots of outer space and slow tense panning shots of the ship interior. Even considering the more basic military installment sets and drab palette, this movie looks great! I’m especially impressed with the dialogue. The writing is thoughtful and mature, free of exposition dumps, lean and natural. I don’t speak Russian, but the acting felt great. Most enjoyable for me was how frequently we find the DNA of other celebrated Sci-Horror films peppered into this while still feeling wholly original.

The alien creature’s emergence smacks of The Hidden (1987), but its appearance and behavior feel closer to Life (2017) and Prometheus (2012). Meanwhile, its host (Konstantin) has no idea why he is held against his will and studied in a military research facility, much as in The Fly II (1989); nor does Tatyana know the military’s motives. Some story components even feel like faint echoes from Aliens (1986). All familiar components, but all delivered fresh and in packaging we haven’t before seen.

Learning about the alien’s behavior is an interesting process—I love it. It unfurls in mystery as much as action. And for that, this film thrives as much on its drama and suspense as it does its science fiction. I came in expecting a wild monster movie. But this has proven to be a much richer, deeper story. At times this feels as much a pithy crime or medical thriller as it does Sci-Fi.

I LOVE this movie. The story and characters are great! The alien creature is highly impactful and nuanced, from its movement patterns to its biology. Likewise, Konstantin and Tatyana slowly unveil their own history and secrets as so unfold the true nature of the alien parasite.

Endings to movies like this are hard to please. This ending I thought was slightly disappointing yet still highly satisfying in different ways. Overall, the ending suited the movie very well. Solid film! I give my highest recommendation to Sci-Fi fans as well as Sci-Horror fans.

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