Our knowledge of Russian cinema is sketchy at best as it is rare that a feature from the country makes it to a high profile UK release. Yet sci-fi horror Sputnik is one that has successful broken through the border of its Eastern home. The film is the directorial feature debut of filmmaker Egor Abramenko, penned by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev.
Tatyana Yuryevna Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) is a young doctor recruited by the Russian military to help support their research on a Russian cosmonaut recently returned to Earth. Previously in hot water for her controversial approaches to science, Tatyana is the perfect recruit to work on this mysterious project, as it is revealed the cosmonaut has not returned alone – instead becoming the vessel for a dangerous alien creature that has embedded itself inside him.
Egor Abramenko crafts a unique distinctive atmosphere, transporting us to the grey industrial aesthetics of eighties Soviet Russia. Thematically its a rich and distinctive setting for a horror film – despite politics never massively veering into the narrative other than surface level. Instead the priority is the horror and science fiction theatrics, with Sputnik succeeding as a lavish B-Movie treat – ripe in gore and fantastic creature special effects.
Whilst the screenwriters’ sense of patience could perhaps be described as initially somewhat sluggish more than slow-burning, the narrative picks-up with the arrival of Sputnik’s eerily cute but vicious extra-terrestrial creature. Whilst the narrative turns, especially the ultimate escape of the creature, are foregone conclusions that can be presumed as soon as we see it enclosed with its human host in a perspex cage – Abramenko ultimately has fun taking us there.
Whilst pacing may not be rapid-fire, praise should go to the skill that goes into building the characters of Sputnik – most notably that of Tatyana – aided by an impressive leading turn from Akinshina. Watching Tatyana build a connection with the alien creature is engrossing, just as her disdain about the corruption she witnesses from military head honcho Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk) is.
Sputnik’s setting of 80s USSR, Akinshina’s impressive performance, and Abramenko’s willingness to embrace B-Movie theatrics, gore, and special effects, help it shine as a distinctive, impressive genre treat.
Sputnik is available to buy or rent from August 14th.