Two men go into space but three come back in Egor Abramenko’s atmospheric sci-fi horror Sputnik. It’s an alien invasion film of a different variety, opting to infiltrate Earth by hiding inside one man rather than sending an army of spaceships to decimate our planet one monument at a time. Set in Cold War-era Russia and steeped in the paranoia of a crumbling government at odds with the entire world Sputnik is an unnerving story about the fight for survival at the edge of extinction. And one with an alien monster that will have you clutching your stomach in wild-eyed disbelief when it is first revealed.
Directing from a screenplay written by Oleg Malovichko & Andrey Zolotarev, Egor Abramenko’s Sputnik stars Oksana Akinshina (The Bourne Supremacy), Pyotr Fyodorov (The Darkest Hour), and renowned Russian filmmaker Fyodor Bondarchuk (The 9th Company). The cast is phenomenal, leaving absolute nothing unsaid in their disdain for the callous decision making of their own government but just as responsible for bringing the cold, unsympathetic world of early 80’s Russia to life in the film are the filming locations. A large portion of shooting took place at the Institute of Biochemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences, giving the film an authentic look and feel. The institute as founded 1959 and is still in operation today which is a huge benefit because it stands as a time capsule for an era of mystery and misinformation. In other words: the perfect atmosphere for alien cover-ups, and conspiracy theories.
As a North American film-goer, I’ve had pretty much one impression of Cold War Russia my whole life. Rocky IV told me they were unscrupulous, power-hungry opportunists and Red Dawn warned me that it was probably only a matter of time before they came knocking on our doorstep with an unstoppable army. Having been born just shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, I’ve always been obsessed with how fear shaped those post-WWII decades, especially in regards to the silence from that mysterious far-east country. That lack of communication and that militarized secrecy has been a breeding ground for conspiracy theories that persist even today. For a very long time, the only thing people feared more than visitation from aliens, was the idea that aliens’ first contact with earth would be with Russia *gasp*.
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It’s highly unlikely we’ve ever been visited by extra-terrestrials but how do we really know what went on behind that impenetrable wall separating the USSR from the rest of the world? As a young space-race nerd, I always found the lack of literature on Russia’s space program frustrating. I wanted to know what they were building. I wanted to know what they were up to… I wanted to know what they were hiding. Sputnik is the story we all feared was playing out behind closed doors in communist Russia, but it’s not a sensationalized story told by American’s with a fabricated knowledge of the country’s history. As a completely Russian production, it does hold a mirror to Russia’s inhumanity but it’s also a pretty rad science-fiction tale of a gnarly alien monster that could mean the end of humanity as we know it.
“Sputnik is a chilling cold war era sci-fi horror hiding its heart in a pile of guts […] pure nightmare fuel for space-horror fans. “
The alien monster is always going to be the star of the show for any space-horror flick and oh boy does Sputnik make sure you can’t keep your eyes off that damn thing! Not only does it loom over every scene like a hulking, brain-sucking monster from outer space but its reveal is unsettling in a way that even Ridley Scott wasn’t able to pull off in Alien. Yes, the xenomorph bursting out of John Hurt’s chest is truly one of the greatest cinematic moments in horror history but let me ask you this: Wouldn’t it be scarier if it simply crawled out of poor Kane’s mouth each night to feed before slinking it’s way back down his throat before morning came?
And we’re not talking about a itty bitty lil alien baby. The monster in Sputnik is monstrous, standing just as tall as the man it hides inside. Somehow, it manages to squeeze itself back inside the cosmonaut’s stomach where it rests, patiently waiting for it’s next opportunity to crawl back out and hunt. Director Egor Abramenko taps directly into that Alien vein, playing on our fear of an alien parasite feeding on us from inside. In his own words, the real nightmare-fuel of the film came from snakes. “Everybody is terrified of snakes. Imagine the snake living inside your body. That was the starting image”. If that thought already has you fighting back the urge to purge the contents of your stomach, you’re gonna love the slick, slimy creature of Sputnik.
Pyotr Fyodorov puts on an incredible performance as Valery, the cosmonaut cursed with carrying this unwanted passenger inside him. He appears to have no knowledge of the creature, living out his days in isolation, frustrated that he is being treated as a prisoner by his own government. He wants to go home and he wants to know what happened to him and his crewmate but he’s being held against his will until researchers can make sense of the foreign entity living inside him. Russian Commander Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk) has been giving explicit order to kill the “infected” cosmonaut if he cannot separate the two, but in a last-ditch effort to save Valery, he has brought in radical psychologist Tatiana Klimova, played wonderfully by actress Oksana Akinshina. Her methods and sociopathic demeanor have threatened her entire career but her controversial approach to treating patients is all that stands between Valery and a firing squad.
Sputnik turns out an emotionally complex story about what it looks like to lose your humanity and why it is important to always reach for the stars. But if all you’re really interested in is seeing an otherworldly creature crack open skulls to feast on human brains, this creepy little flick has got you covered. The funny thing is that years of propaganda (from both sides) have only helped to add credibility to story this wild. Just given what we’ve learned about the United States UFO research in the last months, is it really that hard to believe there is a people-eating monster from the outer limits hidden underground somewhere just waiting for the right opportunity to escape and help itself to this brain buffet we call Earth? Whether we unknowingly avoided destruction just a few decades ago or we’re only days away from the end of the world as we know it, Sputnik is a chilling cold war era sci-fi horror hiding its heart in a pile of guts. It’s an absolute must-see for space race nerds and pure nightmare fuel for space horror fans.
Egor Abramenko’s Sputnik, presented by IFC Midnight, opens in select theatres, digital platforms, and Cable VOD on August 14, 2020. Let us know what you thought of the film and what your favorite space horror movies are over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!