REVIEW: ‘Sputnik’ is Effective, but Stuffed Sci-Fi

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SPUTNIK

When talking about genre categories of film — like exploitation films, horror, and science fiction — there’s an impulse to refer to exceptional entries as “elevated.” The notion of “elevated” horror or sci-fi, implies that these genres exist on a lesser plane. In the case of science fiction, especially, the idea of an “elevated” story is a redundancy. A higher level of storytelling and filmmaking is what makes good sci-fi. In the case of Sputnik, we see a prime example of what happens when a science fiction premise is stretched, squeezed, and molded into something more.

Sputnik is directed by Egor Abramenko, making his feature directorial debut, and stars Oksana Akinshina, Pyotr Fyodorov, Fedor Bondarchuk, and Anton Vasilev. The film is inspired by Abramenko’s breakout sci-fi short, The Passenger, which garnered rave reviews at its 2017 premiere at the Fantastic Fest genre film festival in Austin, Texas. Sputnik was an official selection in the Midnight category at Tribeca Film Festival 2020.

The film is set at the height of the Cold War when a mysterious Soviet spacecraft crash leaves only one survivor… or so it seems. The surviving commander is brought to a secret military research facility where a young doctor, Tatiana, must assess his bizarre case. The cosmonaut has returned to Earth with a unique condition, the military plans to exploit it and it’s up to Tatiana to stop it.

Something that instantly sets Sputnik apart is its stunning beauty. The film is layered with rich detail. The sets are complete and interesting, the Soviet military base offers a striking bleakness, and the entire look of the film just oozes that chilling, unsettled atmosphere. One look at any given, perfectly constructed, shot evokes exactly the right emotion. Well done.

What would a science fiction film be without its alien creature? Let me tell you, the alien in Sputnik is cool as hell. Even in a small, undeveloped stage, the creature has a disturbing presence that unfolds into genuine fear once you see this thing move! It is a tall order to create a movie monster that is meant to evoke and then feed on extreme terror and Sputnik meets the mark 100 times over.

SPUTNIK

This level of detail seeps beyond the visuals of the film and into some truly fantastic screenwriting and storytelling. Sputnik is a behemoth. Its 107-minute runtime makes it feel especially massive, as each moment is jam-packed with narrative and emotional weight. For a science fiction film, Sputnik dwells a lot in personal drama. These elements are well-written and performed to sincere perfection by the cast, but all of that enormous weight can sometimes cause the film to drag.

What the film does, it does very well but one could also say that Sputnik is doing too much. The film tackles issues of government corruption, imminent extraterrestrial danger, the flailing career of an unconventional doctor, human rights atrocities, and the family drama of the cosmonaut that unwillingly finds himself at the center of it all. It’s to Sputnik‘s credit that each of these dramatic elements is well weighed and represented, arguably a preferable alternative to picking up story points and promptly putting them back down. However, this results in the scope of the film being overwhelmingly broad. It’s difficult to know where the focus is meant to be. Again, Sputnik is heavy to the point that it labors under its own weight.

To properly summarize Sputnik is nearly impossible and the film is sure to be polarizing. Fans of The Passenger will find Sputnik an exciting return to form. Genre devotees will see an expertly laid out example of science fiction delivered with remarkable attention to detail and an eye towards innovation. It’s also true that the surplus of narrative threads paired with a hefty runtime will prove too much for some casual viewers. This is one that you have to see for yourself and I highly recommend you make the time.

Sputnik opens in select theaters, digitally, and VOD on August 14, 2020.

SPUTNIK
  • 5/10
    Rating - 5/10
5/10

TL;DR

To properly summarize Sputnik is nearly impossible and the film is sure to be polarizing. Fans of The Passenger will find Sputnik an exciting return to form. Genre devotees will see an expertly laid out example of science fiction delivered with remarkable attention to detail and an eye towards innovation. It’s also true that the surplus of narrative threads paired with a hefty runtime will prove too much for some casual viewers. This is one that you have to see for yourself and I highly recommend you make the time.