Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on laptop.
One of the classic tropes of science fiction is the idea of people going into space and coming back with something from out there. It’s a minor variation of the more prevalent trope of something from out there coming here. Sputnik puts us in the early ‘80s with a pair of cosmonauts circling the globe. To set the stage, our cosmonauts, while on the mission, experience something moving outside their capsule. Things malfunction on re-entry, and of the two, only Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov) survives. But, let’s put it this way—there are still two living things coming off that ship.
Tatyana Yuryevna Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) is a neurophysiologist who is somewhat controversial in her methods. In the middle of a scandal, she is pulled away and taken to the steppes of Kazakhstan, where Konstantin is being held. Her job is to investigate what is happening to him, including his partial amnesia as well as his surprisingly rapid recovery from the accident of his landing in the damaged capsule. She is given the run of most of the facility (which turns out to be a prison) by Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk), and works at least in part (and often in opposition to) Yan Rigel (Anton Vasiliev).
And then things get fun. What Klimova discovers is that at night, a creature crawls out of the mouth of Konstantin and exists in the outside air for 60-90 minutes. Her goal now is revealed to not be involved with Konstantin’s amnesia, but to discover a way to separate the creature from the man. Is it parasitic? Is it symbiotic? She leans toward the second possibility specifically because the creature seems to be the answer to why Konstantin recovered physically so quickly. But as Klimova digs deeper into what is happening, the truth of the creature and how it survives becomes darker and darker.
There’s a lot to like with Sputnik. Generally speaking, it’s well acted. I don’t know any of these actors, but Oksana Akinshina is quite good both in her fear of the creature and her desperate attempts to maintain something like scientific rigor and dispassion when examining it. Fyodor Bondarchuk is particular imposing as Semiradov, a man who very quickly begins to exude an almost pure level of evil.
I also very much like the creature effects. The monster is disturbing in all the right ways. Its exit from Konstantin is horrific, and it emerges from him in a sort of slime sac or cocoon. There are definitely design elements of the creature that reflect terrestrial spiders and mantises as well as any number of other creepy crawlies. This is not a creature that is cuddly or cute in any way. It’s ugly and scary and looks like an embodiment of evil. It’s great work, and it looks really good on screen.
I also like the name, because it works on a lot of levels. The word “sputnik” is going to immediately call up images of the Soviet satellite that began the space race. That’s clearly intentional and immediately grounds us (pun intended) in the outer space and science fiction genres. But it also works because “sputnik” means “traveler” or more accurately “traveling companion” in Russian, which is an awfully disturbing way to look at the thing crawling out of Konstantin’s mouth. Where Sputnik has problems is in the third act. Things build up very nicely for the first two acts of the film, but it feels like the authors wrote themselves into a corner trying to get to the conclusion that they want. We know essentially that everything is going to go to hell—we just don’t know how it’s going to happen. When it does, we expect it, but the way that it happens ends up feeling very unsatisfying. The actual ending is a little opaque as well. We’re given a piece of information about Tatyana Klimova that, honestly, I didn’t understand right away. Suffice it to say that I had to watch a couple of minutes of the film twice, not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because the film wasn’t that clear.
Sputnik shows promise. I’d like to see more from Abramenko as a director—this is his first feature-length film and it shows a lot of promise. Sputnik is an interesting watch, but the third act problems make it harder to recommend than I would like.
Why to watch Sputnik: Great creature effects.
Why not to watch: Unsatisfactory ending.