Set in the USSR in 1983, Sputnik follows Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina), a psychiatrist prone to go to unconventional lengths in order to get results. She is approached by Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk) and asked to assess the mental health of a cosmonaut, Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov), in the aftermath of an orbital mission.
Tatyana agrees and travels to an isolated military base in Kazakhstan. All is not as it first seems and it soon becomes clear that Konstantin has returned to Earth with an uninvited visitor – a parasitical alien that lives inside his body cavity and emerges at night to feed. Tatyana must devise a way to separate the pair before Konstantin’s health becomes too reliant on the presence of the alien.
Conceptually, it would not be unfair to compare Sputnik to 2017’s underrated space horror Life. It also bears some resemblance to the origin story of Marvel favourite Venom, as an intrepid space mission inadvertently brings home an alien parasite; a storyline that also provided ample inspiration for trashy, extra-terrestrial sex-horror Species. But while Sputnik might tread some familiar ground, it takes a more sophisticated approach. It serves up its own wild concept and tasty monster design and it’s never at the expense of character, established as it is, over the course Tatyana’s slow investigation into the creature.
Sputnik blends the spherical designs of Soviet Space Program history into its cosmonaut aesthetic to great effect, seeing as the real-life Sputnik programme consisted of the first Earth satellite launched into orbit in 1957, and the first occupied space flight, where Sputnik 2 carried heroic canine Laika into orbit. The first manned space flights, too, were undertaken in the Vostok capsules.
From the brutalist confines of the military base, to the desolate, open plains surrounding it, Abramenko has delivered a great-looking film. The sight of the crash-landed capsule is particularly striking, as a farmer finds it mangled and blinking in a fog-laden field, like a dislodged eyeball, with its beaten and bloody occupants lying in its wake. In addition, the Space Program visuals and the 1980s setting feel authentic and accurately portrayed.
The creature is worthy of mention, too, as it’s a pallid, spindly object of nightmare fuel; somewhere in between that weird albino snake from Prometheus and a magnified spider – and the CGI work to render it is well done and convincing.
Combine all that with a great lead performance from Oksana Akinshina and no hesitation on the blood and guts when required, and Sputnik is a welcome addition to the alien parasite genre. Sci-fi and horror fans will definitely want to check it out and ensure Sputnik stays in their orbit.
In Australia, ‘Sputnik’ will be on a limited theatrical release from October 1st at the following cinemas: NSW – Ritz Randwick & Dendy Newtown / ACT – Dendy Canberra. Foxtel and Fetch: October 1 – October 14. Digital release: October 28.