In the history of film, the concept of space aliens has been around for a long time. If we’re only focusing on Alien, the film that popularized the terror from space genre, scary aliens have been around for over 40 years. When our culture is exposed to the idea of scary aliens for that long, it is not surprising that we become desensitized to the idea. Sputnik recaptures what made aliens so interesting to begin with, the mystery of being confronted with something that is unlike anything on our planet.
In 1983 a manned Russian mission to space goes awry as the astronauts begin their descent to the planet below. The government hires a nurse that has recently come under scrutiny for her dedication to a case in hopes that she can find out what is wrong with one of the astronauts. She soon discovers that though he may seem fine, there is something very wrong lurking deep inside him. To the public’s knowledge, the mission was a huge success and the men are heroes, the problem is that they didn’t return alone.
After more than 40 years of science fiction based around aliens, it would be hard to make something with none of the tropes, but Sputnik finds ways of using them in new and interesting ways. Similar to Alien the creature is found deep inside the astronaut and emerges from him, but only for a few hours and then returns. This becomes the driving intrigue through the film, how does it eat, how smart is it, and is it a parasite leeching off the astronaut or has it created a symbiotic bond with him. All of these elements are sprinkled through the plot to keep the audience guess and on their toes, combined with moments that show the creature being truly dangerous.
Where the film begins to fumble is in the second half when there comes a point where they plan an escape from the facility. In a film such as 10 Cloverfield Lane, there are plans of escape that go awry and the consequences are felt throughout the film, making the rest feel all the more perilous. After the escape attempt in Sputnik, the general is surprisingly sympathetic to the characters, explaining that he should have been more forthcoming with information, even offering to work more openly with them. While it is nice to have a military general not be a rampantly evil foil to the characters, it essentially leaves the film without a strong antagonist, until he is pushed to a point where any character would have to becomes the opposing force to the protagonists.
While Sputnik isn’t without its flaws, there is something refreshing about seeing an alien film rediscover what makes them so interesting. The alien doesn’t have to be an unstoppable killing machine, it can be a creature we are struggling to understand that has fierce moments. For this being a first feature film from director Egor Abramenko this is a fantastic start, making them someone to definitely keep your eye on.
7 out of 10