There is a hidden gem inside the cinematic world that most film lovers have no idea it even exists. It is the world of Russian cinema – or to be more accurate, the world of Russian blockbuster films.
I have had the privilege of exploring this world full of amazing films due to the Russian Film Festival that is held annually in Melbourne… and to be honest, it is something that I look forward to every year. Thanks to the festival, I have had the joy of discovering Russian blockbusters like Metro and August Eighth – blockbusters that I have to say could teach Hollywood a thing a two about how to make well-written, brilliant looking epics.
Now comes Sputnik – a Russian sci-fi horror with real bite. A film that I enjoyed from start to finish so much so that I am already looking forward to a second viewing. Directed by Egor Abramenko (The Passenger) Sputnik takes us back to the 80s with the space race still in full swing. Cosmonaut Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov – The Blackout) is a national hero, but all that changes when he is the only survivor after an accident in space and he disappears from the public eye.
Now Konstantin finds himself being kept prisoner while a team led by Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk – Stalingrad) investigate the ‘alien being’ that has latched itself to him. With the team lost for answers, they call unconventional psychiatrist Dr. Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina – The Bourne Supremacy) to work on Konstantin and see if she can ascertain exactly what has happened.
To me, Sputnik is not only set in the 1980s, but it also takes me back to a time when directors like Ridley Scott were giving us decent sci-fi horrors, rather than the films served up today that are light on horror and light on comprehensible or entertaining storylines. Plot-wise Sputnik is as basic as it comes, despite added storylines revolving around Konstantin abandoning his son etc, yet somehow it is still better than films like Prometheus that were so complicated it felt like they were trying to change human history. There is nothing convoluted about Sputnik and the result is an enjoyable sci-fi that also doesn’t hold back on the horror element. It has you on the edge of your seat and has a plot that you can really sink into. At the end of the day you really can’t ask for much more from a genre film.
My biggest hope after watching Sputnik is that someone gives Abramenko a ticket to Hollywood and his pick of which film he would like to direct. His style of directing here shows that he has all the skills that made directors like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg so exciting when they were young and creating edgy sci-fi that didn’t hold back on gore and originality. Abramenko is an untapped talent in mainstream cinema and it is about time that we got to see what he could do with an international cast and a budget with a few extra zeroes on the end of it.
What I also enjoyed about Sputnik was the fact that the screenplay allows for some interesting interactions between the characters without everything being an intense horror scene. Some of the moments where Tatyana is interviewing and treating Konstantin are just as intense as the ones where the creature is on the loose. This type of filmmaking should really be a staple in every film but sadly it is becoming a lost art, so it is nice to see it resurface in films like this.
Dark, foreboding and intense Sputnik is a welcome throwback to the films of the 80s and 90s that made me fall in love with genre films in the first place. This is a brilliant piece of cinema that hopefully a wide audience can discover.