Sputnik (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Beauty and the Host

Russian film “Sputnik” is a little creepy SF horror flick which intrigues and then chills you as patiently developing the story and characters within its limited background. Evoking many various movies ranging from “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) to “Venom” (2018), the movie also establishes its own mood and personality while accumulating a cold but palpable sense of dread and paranoia on the screen, and we come to brace ourselves more for what may happen next in the story.

Set in the Soviet Union in 1983, the movie unfolds its story mainly from the viewpoint of Dr. Tatyana Yuryevna Klimova (Oksana Akinshina, whom you may remember for her brief appearance around the end of “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004)), a young psychiatrist who has recently been subjected to a board review due to a rather drastic treatment on one of her patients. While she insists that what she did was absolutely necessary for curing that patient once for all, the board members do not like her defiant attitude much, and this will probably lead to the end of her professional career.

And then she is approached by Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk, who is the son of renowned Russian filmmaker Sergei Bondarchuk and has also been known for directing/producing several notable Russian films including “The 9th Company” (2005)), a stern and shady military officer who has an interesting offer she cannot refuse. A few months ago, two Russian astronauts returned to the Earth after ending their space mission, but, as already shown to us during the opening sequence, something strange happened to them during the landing, and Semiradov wants Kilmova to examine one of these two astronauts, who has currently been held in a high-security military base located somewhere in Kazakhstan. Mainly because he promises to her that he will take care of her impending problem, Kilmova eventually accepts Semiradov’s offer, and we soon see her arriving at the base in Kazakhstan along with him.

The astronaut in question is Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov), and Dr. Kilmova is baffled at first as observing that there seems to be nothing particularly wrong about Veshnyakov. He looks clearly stressed at times due to his extending period of confinement and examination, but he has no choice but to follow whatever he is instructed to do by the people working under Semiradov, and we see him going through another superficial interview session while Kilmova and Semiradov are watching him from the other side of the room.

During the following night, Semiradov shows Kilmova a dark secret growing inside Veshnyakov’s body day by day. Whenever he sleeps at night, a small living alien entity comes out of his mouth, and then it returns to his body some time later before he wakes up. Before deciding whether it should be eliminated or not, Semiradov wants to be sure about whether this mysterious entity, which can be quite dangerous, can be separated from Veshnyakov and then contained for further examination, and that is why he needs the cooperation from Kilmova, who may find a solution as approaching to Veshnyakov and his mind in her own unorthodox way.

Now realizing that she gets herself involved in a very tricky circumstance, Kilmova becomes more aware of how oppressive and ominous the surrounding environment is, and director Egor Abramenko and his crew members including cinematographer Maxim Zhukov make sure that we can constantly sense the drab and gloomy ambience from the screen. Although Semiradov guarantees that she will know everything she needs for her risky mission, it subsequently turns out that there are several crucial things hidden behind his back, and there is a chilling scene where Kilmova later comes to learn more of the nasty aspects of the alien parasite.

While approaching closer to Veshnyakov for gaining his trust and finding any possible way to save him from the alien parasite, Kilmova comes to feel sorry for him, and that naturally makes her situation trickier than before. She is already ordered not to tell anything about the alien parasite to Veshnyakov, but he may really need to know the truth considering how he becomes connected more and more with the alien parasite in their symbiotic status, and it is also quite possible that he will be eventually regarded as someone expendable by Semiradov and those high-ranking government officials above him.

I will not dare to go into details on what will inevitably happen next among the three main characters in the film, but I can tell you instead that I enjoyed how the screenplay by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev generates some genuine poignancy from the strained relationship developed between Kilmova and Veshnyakov, which comes to look more like a classic case of Beauty and the Beast as more secrets are revealed later in the story. Although I think the finale is a little too long, it still works in terms of story and characters, and the three main performers in the film are convincing to the end.

While it looks pretty modest on the surface, “Sputnik” is more intelligent, efficient, and compelling compared to many of those big-budget Hollywood SF movies out there. It mostly stays inside its genre territory in addition to being your average gloomy Russian movie, but, as reflected by the considerable efforts and skills put onto the screen, it studied its genre well before fully developing its simple story premise, and I appreciate that a lot.

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