Sputnik (2020) Review

In Soviet Russia, the illegal aliens are inside you all along.

There’s a deliberately languorous pace to “Sputnik”, a storytelling approach which seems endemic to Russian cinema and its science fiction in particular. That’s not meant as a criticism by any means. It’s simply a fundamental cultural difference in the way stories are told and its when its sticks to this approach the film is at its most potent.

In the mid-1980s, a Russian spacecraft lands in Kazakhstan following a mysterious incident during re-entry. One of the cosmonauts is dead but the other stages a remarkable recovery from his injuries. Kept in a secret government installation, an unorthodox neurophysiologist is brought in to consult when it’s discovered the survivor is harbouring an alien parasite.

There’s plenty of borrowed material repurposed here, most obviously “Alien” but also “Life”, “Gravity”, “The Thing” and even, remarkably, Lawrence Kasdan’s 2003 misfire “Dreamcatcher”. It could also be seen as a very dark, twisted mirror to “E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial”. Only where that was a story of an alien visitor helping us to get in touch with their inner child, “Sputnik” offers us the story of one man getting help to get in touch with their inner extra-terrestrial.

There’s enough creeping tension and dread to cover some of the more awkward logistical questions around the creature’s size and its purported hiding place but the idea of an alien parasite turned symbiote is explored in an interesting way and one which manages to distance itself from the comic book contemplations of the likes of “Venom”.

It’s something of a mixed bag overall but what it gets right it gets very right and it’s just a shame then that as it approaches its third act, “Sputnik” seems to lose its nerve and throw in some very decadent West-style action and melodrama which undermines the carefully crafted atmospheric work which makes up the majority of this sinister creature feature.