Sputnik is competently made but lacks the necessary suspense and horror to elevate it past mere adequacy.
Here’s another sci-fi flick that plays like an extended X-Files episode. There will always be room for riffs on familiar scenarios — last year gifted us the superior Crawl, and this year saw the release of Underwater, a fast-paced, unpretentious creature feature. Even the recent Sea Fever, so clearly indebted to The Thing that John Carpenter should’ve gotten a writing credit, got by on good performances, squishy special effects, and a mercifully brief running time. The problem, then, isn’t so much that Sputnik is made from parts of other, better movies as that director Egor Abramenko can’t reconfigure them into anything interesting. Taking place in the early ’80s for no discernible reason, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov) is a Russian cosmonaut who has crashed back to earth under mysterious circumstances and now suffers from amnesia. Tatyana Yuryevna Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) is a radical neurophysiologist, recently dismissed from her clinical position for her unorthodox methods, then recruited by the military to diagnose Konstantin. It’s not really a spoiler to say that an alien creature has returned to Earth with Konstantin, using his body as a shelter of sorts. It takes seemingly forever to get even this limited amount of narrative information out in the open, as Tatyana interviews Konstantin and butts heads with a mysterious Colonel (Fyodor Bondarchuk) who may or may not be keeping secrets (he is). This all plays out exactly as you expect it to, with virtually no suspense or outright horror anywhere to be found. The film is slickly well-made, which is to say that it looks both very professional and very bland in the manner of most prestige TV. There are a lot of shot-counter shot conversations, with characters centered neatly in the middle of a mostly empty scope frame. Most damningly, the film attempts to ape the worst aspects of Denis Villeneuve: glacial, ponderous pacing, strained seriousness, and frequently confusing grasps at profundity. To be fair, the alien creature is pretty neat, and the effects used to bring it to life are topnotch, but by the time it actually cuts loose and does some cool stuff it’s simply too little too late. This’ll probably be on Netflix in a couple of months, at which point it will settle in nicely as yet another filler title to endlessly scroll past.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | August 2020.