Release Date: 23/4/2020
Director: Egor Abramenko
Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)
Tatyana (Oksana Akinshina) is a psychologist who is plucked out of a criminal investigation into her crossing the line of duty to help, albeit, dangerously, a patient who she believes was in greater danger if she hadn’t done what she had done. Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk) wants her to psychologically evaluate a cosmonaut, Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) who crash-landed on earth recently after an accident in space. The cosmonaut sharing the mission with him was tragically killed and Konstantin was severely injured in the accident. Strangely, he miraculously regains his health within a few days. Semiradov believes that there is more to the man and the accident than what meets the eye and recruits Tatyana to dwell deeper into the psyche of the man for initial answers. As the story progresses, we learn with Tatyana that the entire game is not what it was revealed in the beginning. As the protagonist investigates and pulls away layer after layer from the narrative, a bizarre and terrifying truth is revealed that when exposed might mean the end of the line for Konstantin and threaten the safety and sanity of Tatyana.
“Sputnik” in Russian means companion and that meaning has an overbearing on the narrative of the film. The film is as much about the camaraderie between the cosmonaut Konstantin and the psychologist Tatyana who wants to help him get out of the facility as it is about Tatyana and Colonel Semiradov who not only complies with Tatyana’s every demand but also respects and treats her with unheard off reverence. While Konstantin gradually starts confiding in Tatyana and helps her understand his true condition, the companionship between Tatyana and Semiradov grows in the opposite direction as with every passing sequence it is revealed that Semiradov’s intentions might not be in line with what is best for everyone. However, it does take a lot of time for Tatyana to zero in on the fact that the man might just be evil. The director Egor Abramenko explores these human conditions and dilemmas to the fullest and uses them as potent elements to extract shock, surprise, interpersonal drama, and intrigue from the story and performances. It is this aspect of the film that is at the very core of the film’s strength.
The performances by the three primary actors have everything to do with the success of the above-mentioned portions of the film and it is because of their engrossing performances that the film remains captivating from start to finish. Oksana Akinshina is terrific as Tatyana. I loved how her softer side is revealed as we move ahead in the story. As she begins to understand the game her frustration is quickly transformed into disbelief and horror. Akinshina brings to life these nuances in the mannerisms of the character in a progressive manner resulting in her rendition turning believable and effective. Pyotr Fyodorov is the perfect match for a cosmonaut who is also a national hero but is a failed father. He is torn apart and demented from within owing to what he wants to do with his life and the truth that he knows about himself. Fyodorov wonderfully brings out the duality of the character through his heartfelt rendition of the character.
Fedor Bondarchuk’s rendering of Colonel Semiradov will remind many of how we presume the Russians and he embodies their deadpan mannerisms and fearsome ways. It is interesting to note that his character is a different man with the character of Tatyana and that adds an additional layer to his already layered personality. Since he maintains a straight face that is inexpressive, he becomes an even trickier enigma. It is impossible to predict his next move and that brings a lot of fun to the narrative. Suffice is to say that he is the perfect foil for Oksana Akinshina and Pyotr Fyodorov and help them up their respective games.
This review would be incomplete if I didn’t address the alien in the room. Yes! The film does have an alien that plays an integral part in the narrative and in fact, makes up the third companionship pair of the film. The design of the alien is creepy and the VFX department did exceptionally well to justify its shape and structure and how it used these aspects to its advantage and its symbiotic life cycle. I loved how it could move like a deadly weapon but at the same time also depicted human-like emotions and wonder at certain objects and actions from time to time. I loved how they designed its many eyes and used them as a means to communicate emotions and wonder. That is something that I noticed in atleast two sequences involving the alien. It is easily one of the best depictions of an alien life form in years.
I loved how atmospheric this film was. There is an inherent feeling of something lurking in the air all throughout the narrative. Even in scenes where we see character interacting with each other, there is a sense of uneasiness. This is something that adds to the charm of the film and is a result of the wonderful cinematography and score of the film.
Sputnik is like a reimagining of Venom sans all the over-the-top action, comedy, corniness, and with performances that are light-years ahead of what we experienced in Venom. It is a film that believes in its story and wants the audiences to believe in it as well. The director does everything in his strength to render the story and the character believable and he is able to do that up to a great extent. I was consistently intrigued and surprised by this film and even though some of its story and creature elements felt inspired from previous classics, it never felt like an assembly line repackaging of an older successful offering. I was satisfied with the finale and it answered all the major questions that are laid out. What more could we ask from a Russian science fiction film of the 2020s.
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