Tuesday, 25 August 2020
The Sputnik Xperiment
Russia 2020 Directed by Egor Abramenko
Art Pictures Studio
Warning: Some spoilerage herein.
Sputnik is a brand new Russian film which, sort of, slips into the genre mix of sci-fi/horror although, perhaps dramatic thriller might be more useful as a descriptive term rather than horror in the case of the motivations of the ‘creature’ of the movie, in some ways. Make up your own mind on that one but it’s certainly got elements of fantasy in it so... yeah, genre definitions can be hard sometimes.
As I’m sure many people have said about this movie already... there’s nothing new here. You’ve seen it all before but, I think in the case of Sputnik, the difference is that it’s been pulled off very credibly by someone who obviously understands how these things work. I suspect that a lot of people might have realised, also, that the underlying premise of this film is pretty much stolen wholesale from writer Nigel Kneale’s masterpiece of 1950s British Telefantasy, The Quatermass Experiment (and the subsequent Hammer Studios movie adaptation, The Quatermass Xperiment). Which is fine, actually.... I’ve got no problems with using this as a starting point even though it’s certainly not as subtle as the original where, instead of slowly finding out what has happened to the crew of the rocket, here we actually see something bad about to happen to the two man crew of a satellite and then, when the capsule lands on earth, we see one spaceman with his brain half hanging out and the other about to do something which we find out about in more detail... not very much later on.
Like The Quatermass Experiment, one of the astronauts has a host alien attached to him... the difference being that here it’s a lot more overt and leaves his body at a certain hour every night, vomiting itself from his mouth but maintaining a symbiotic relationship with him when it goes out to feed. As a westerner, I’d say that this is why the film is called Sputnik, with the alien parasite as a metaphor for something which orbits something else and then comes home again for a while. However, another meaning for Sputnik in Russia is something like ‘companion’ so... draw your own conclusions.
One of the great things about this movie is that the actors are all spectacularly good at selling the key premise and ensuring a semblance of credibility is kept to the proceedings. Pyotr Fyodorov is brilliant as Konstanin, the host organism who is trying to hide from the military that he’s actually conscious he’s got an organism on board for the ride. And fairly early on we meet a psychiatrist, Tatiana, played brilliantly by Oksana Akinshina, who is kind of baled out by the military guy with the motive for keeping Konstantin under study and, who is here under the pretence of evaluating Konstantin and then, when she is filled in a little more later, to find out how to control the alien inside him.
The film is set in 1983 but it’s pretty much all, apart from the occasional switch to a confusingly unnecessary sub-plot about Konstantin’s offspring in an orphanage, set on the military base so, asides from the lack of mobile phones, I would have never known that this wasn’t set in contemporary times. Having mostly internal studio sets for the military base is, of course, very budget conscious and, if the money spent saving on lots of locations meant spending more money on the effects well... in the case of Sputnik it’s money well spent because the effects are quite good. The creature design is nicely done and the CGI effects of said creature extremely well realised. You never really think of him as less than a character. Also, the goriness of the special effects, if you’re into that kind of thing, works pretty well too. The creature has a tendency to bite the top half of a victim's head off because it’s after the chemical produced by fear so... there’s no holding back on the various scenes where this comes into play.
Added to the fine acting and effects, though, are the nice compositions which litter the film. The majority of this is, as I said before, set in interior sets and the director really likes to use vertical blocks to delineate certain spaces and depths within the frame and he does so to good effect. The colours he seems to use are mostly neutral but, of course, this just means that when a strong colour is used... say, the red blood of someone’s brains leaking onto the floor... it pops out more in contrast to the rest and helps maximise the dramatic effect of those scenes.
Also, Oleg Karpachev’s score is excellent and reminded me, quite a bit, of James Horner’s orchestration for Aliens, in that it mixes the sinister, brooding terror kind of compositions with the rhythmic drumming one associates with the military. It’s a shame the score hasn’t been commercially released anywhere because this is totally one I would snap up. I did try to find a Russian branch of Amazon to see if I could get it there but... yeah... turns out they don’t have one.
The film suffers a little at the end, would be my only criticism. The sacrificial denouement of the main story is an option which most people would see coming and then, perhaps, dismiss as anything worth doing but... yeah... I thought it was a little bit of a cop out. Similarly, the resolution of that orphanage sub-plot really doesn’t work that well, as far as I’m concerned although, there is a repeat line uttered which does give it a possible ‘wait a minute’ moment. It does, perhaps, help to bolster the sentiments of the title but... yeah, honestly, I could have done without it.
That being said, Sputnik is a fantastic little sci-fi movie and definitely worth your time if you like those kinds of films. I absolutely had a good time with this and would recommend it to most fans of both science fiction and, yes, even the horror genre at a push. This is quality work and deserves to be seen. Try to get this one into your orbit when you get a chance.