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Review: Sputnik (2020)

Apart from being the name of the first satellite launched into Earth orbit, Sputnik, also means companion or fellow traveller. This is fitting because in Egor Abramenko’s debut feature, an early 80s Soviet cosmonaut returns to Earth with a most unwelcome companion.

Tatiana Yurievna (Oksana Akinshina, The Bourne Supremacy, Wolfhound) is about to lose her medical licence due to her unapproved methodology. She’s offered a chance to save herself by government agent Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk, Dark Planet: Rebellion, The Spy). It seems the latest space mission wasn’t the glorious success the government claims. One of the cosmonauts is dead. The other has serious mental issues, which her techniques might work on where conventional therapy has failed.

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As it turns out, the issues plaguing Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov, Dead Mountain, The Blackout: Invasion Earth) are caused by an alien parasite. One the military would love to weaponize.

Prior to Sputnik, director Abramenko only feature film credit for was second unit work on Attraction. He must have impressed them. Not only did he get a chance to debut with a fairly large budget feature, but its director Fedor Bondarchuk stars as the sinister government operative Semiradov. And Oleg Malovichko who co-wrote Sputnik with Andrei Zolotarev also co-wrote Attraction.

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Personnel aside, however, the two films could not be more different. Sputnik is a horror film, set in a drab, grey Soviet facility somewhere in Kazakhstan. In that remote outpost, Tatiana finds herself trapped. Between an alien creature and government officials willing to feed that creature live humans in order to learn its secrets.

Unfortunately, almost the first hour and a half of Sputnik’s two-hour length is spent on dialogue scenes. Mixed in are some effective scares. The cosmonauts hearing something on the outside of their capsule. The first look at the creature. When we see it feed for the first time. But way too much time is spent in arguments over methods of therapy. Or the morals of feeding live humans to an alien creature. The script has a lot to say about Soviet Era politics, but rather than work them into the film’s main theme, they frequently take over. Not that there wasn’t plenty of real-life horror during that period, (or in Putin’s Russia for that matter), but that’s not what Sputnik is being sold on.

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However, looking at it as a non-Russian, I may be missing something. Moved from theatrical to VOD release due to COVID-19 Sputnik has been a hit in its home country. Whether it will get the same response or fail as The Wandering Earth did outside of its homeland remains to be seen.

IFC Midnight will release Sputnik in the US August 14th.

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