One thing that you’ll take away from Sputnik is that the people behind it wanted to make a carefully crafted sci-fi movie that actually entertained. These days, finding a movie with that being a primary goal in mind appears to be rare. That’s one of the reasons why I’m glad that I actually decided to give it a chance even though I had never heard of anyone connected with it outside of the lead actress due to her cameo in The Bourne Supremacy all the way back in 2004.
In Russia, 1983, those in charge of a secretive government facility request help from Tatiana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina), a psychologist known for her risk-taking approach to therapy. Once there, the doctor comes to understand that she is being asked to help cure the amnesia of Valery Basov (Pyotr Fyodorov), a survivor of a terrifying spacecraft accident. It appears to be a simple loss of memory at first, but Dr. Klimova soon realizes that the astronaut may have also unknowingly brought back an alien parasite that threatens the lives of anyone who comes near it.
There’s not a whole lot wrong with Sputnik. If I were going to find anything that some may complain about, it would be the pace in the early going. Although I didn’t mind it myself, I do think what we got for the first 40 or so minutes could have moved a bit faster. If not, maybe it could have been a bit livelier.
However, based purely on what it is and its setting, I can understand why Sputnik moves at the pace it does. The setting is a cold, desolate area in a 1983 version of what’s now called Russia. Of course, it’s supposed to be cold and hard when you look at the usual approach to creating the cinematic version of the country. Plus, it’s primarily based in a secret facility, so it stands to reason that this is the tone that the film decides to go with.
Visually, the aesthetics of the film fit with that since it’s mostly dark with nearly every scene taking place at night or in a number of different rooms with very little light. This could make the film feel somewhat less lively as well, but I found myself intrigued by the content itself regardless. A significant reason for that is due to not knowing how everything is going to unfold in this story. Going into it, I knew it was a sci-fiction film, but that was about it.
Because of this, things begin to take shape in a way that you would hope it would in a film that wants to remain mysterious for as long as possible. This alone will make you want to keep paying attention to what’s happening on-screen. To be honest with you, this was one of the cooler things about the movie since we don’t really get feature films that are able to generate this amount of suspense for such a long period of time.
The suspenseful and mysterious elements of Sputnik also benefit from the fact that our protagonist doesn’t know everything either. From the start, she’s trying to understand what’s going on and works as somewhat of an avatar for us as we follow her every move and are able to feel connected to her. This helps a lot because in some cases, we’re coming to understand things at the same time that she does. Then again, in others, we learn certain crucial details after she does.
Having her figure things out right before we’re able to allow us to “play catch up” at certain key points. Doing this gives the film a chance to build even more suspense. For me, this is important since it gives me a chance to be mentally active during a film that doesn’t leave around that many clues for us to mess around with outside of the expected foreshadowing that we get in virtually every movie.
When it comes to the violence, there’s also a graphic feel to what we get over the course of the film even though they don’t show as much gore as you may expect. I don’t know if this was done for budget purposes or if it was done for artistic reasons, but it works either way. By the end, you really don’t mind that a good portion of the gore is left off-screen. And as someone who usually prefers to see that kind of stuff, I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t mind not getting it completely here.
Anyway, I need to go back and talk about the pacing again real quick. While the first 40 or so minutes weren’t the quickest, things do begin to pick up. Once it does, you’ll notice that Sputnik morphs from a sci-fi thriller to more of a sci-fi action thriller. They still manage to maintain a level of mystery through this transition even though we understand almost everything that we need to know at this point in terms of what’s happening.
While I like where we end up in terms of the film’s conclusion, the ending itself is probably more predictable than I would have hoped. I ultimately didn’t mind though as the journey that got us there used a significant amount of unpredictability itself. Sometimes, that’s all you need. And if you allow yourself to have a little patience and are okay with reading subtitles, I think you’ll find that the journey we witness in Sputnik is worth sitting through.
Director: Egor Abramenko
Film Length: 114 minutes
Release Date: August 14, 2020 (Limited)
Distributor: IFC Midnight
- Score - 8/108/10