‘Sputnik’ review: Russia’s riff on Ridley Scott is light years away from ‘Alien’

This Soviet space-horror shares much with the '70s cult classic – but it lacks a killer instinct

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    This Russian sci-fi film from first-time director Egor Abramenko essentially offers an atmospheric riff on Ridley Scott’s genre classic Alien. When heroic cosmonaut Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) returns to Earth, it soon transpires that he has a mysterious and malevolent extraterrestrial organism living inside him. But thanks to Abramenko’s coolly understated storytelling and evocative recreation of the early ‘80s Soviet Union, Sputnik doesn’t feel quite as over-familiar as it could have done.

    Sputnik begins with talented neurologist Tatyana Klimova (The Bourne Supremacy‘s Oksana Akinshina) being approached by creepy military leader Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk), who wants her to assess Veshnyakov following his ship’s unexplained crash landing. Though his crew-mate is dead and badly mutilated, Veshnyakov has made an incredibly rapid recovery – at least in physical terms. Klimova’s initial observation after she arrives at the remote military base in Soviet Kazakhstan where he’s being held – that the cosmonaut is suffering from PTSD – pales into insignificance when she’s shown footage of a shape-shifting alien creature crawling out of his gullet in the middle of the night. Sputnik’s grey, glutinous extra-terrestrial isn’t the most convincing CGI creation you’ll see this year, but it still manages to be pretty frightening, especially when its gut-churning feeding habits are revealed later on.

    Following further examination that pits her against Yan Rigel (Anton Vasilev), an ambitious Soviet scientist whose motives may not be entirely selfless, Klimova deduces that this creature is no parasite. It’s actually entered into a horrifying symbiotic relationship with Veshnyakov: without the creature inside of him, the cosmonaut seems doomed to die. Her potentially impossible task is to find a way of separating them without killing Veshnyakov – a Soviet hero, at least to outsiders – or the creature, which the scheming Colonel thinks he can turn into the ultimate Cold War weapon.

    Sputnik
    ‘Sputnik’ follows the lone survivor of a spaceship accident. Credit: Vertigo Releasing

    Despite a clumsy and rather too convenient subplot involving Veshnyakov’s estranged son, Sputnik remains gripping as it builds towards a satisfying conclusion marred just slightly by a cheesy pre-credits coda. Throughout, impressively restrained performances from Akinshina and Fyodorov help to keep Abramenko’s increasingly fantastical film grounded in reality. Though she’s given almost no backstory, Akinshina’s Klimova turns out to be a compelling heroine: terse and determined, but willing to admit when she’s wrong. Sputnik isn’t as pioneering as the iconic satellite with which it shares its name, but it fulfils its mission with a reasonable amount of flair.

    Details

    • Director: Egor Abramenko
    • Starring: Oksana Akinshina, Pyotr Fyodorov, Fyodor Bondarchuk
    • Release date: August 14
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