Sputnik (2020)


Introduction

Sputnik (Russian: Спутник) is a 2020 Russian science-fiction horror film directed by Egor Abramenko in his feature directorial debut.

It stars Oksana Akinshina as a young doctor who is recruited by the military to assess a cosmonaut who survived a mysterious space accident and returned to Earth with a dangerous organism living inside him. Alongside Akinshina, the film’s cast includes Pyotr Fyodorov and Fyodor Bondarchuk.

Outline

In 1983, during the last hot period of the Cold War, two Russian cosmonauts engaged in an orbital research mission experienced something inexplicable while returning to earth: they see something moving outside their ship. The spacecraft malfunctions on re-entry and crashes in Kazakhstan, and only one of the cosmonauts, Konstantin, survives. He is taken to an isolated military facility, where Doctor Tatyana Klimova, a young psychiatrist under review for her controversial approaches, is brought in, recruited by the officer in charge, Colonel Semiradov. She is not told the real reason for Konstantin’s quarantine, but she soon finds out that the cosmonaut brought back an extraterrestrial life-form inside his own body without knowing it himself. The creature comes out during the night, while its host is asleep. Colonel Semiradov reveals to her that she is here to determine how to separate Konstantin and the creature, since they seem to have developed a completely symbiotic relationship, with the creature living in the oesophagus of the cosmonaut and benefiting from his nutrients, while Konstantin has made an impossible recovery from his injuries received when crash-landing.

Tatyana confronts Konstantin by telling him she knows he has a child whom he has abandoned at an orphanage, implying he is not a national hero but a coward who does not care about his son, with the purpose of stressing him. Thanks to this, she discovers that the creature is affected by hormone levels and that one of the videos she has been shown has been altered, which leads to her discovering a horrifying truth: the creature does not feed from whatever Konstantin eats, but rather eats live humans, and that Semiradov has been feeding it prisoners. The creature shows itself to its victims in order to augment their fear, which makes the human brain release cortisol, from which the alien obtains its nutrition. Disgusted and horrified by this, she confronts Semiradov, only to be told that the real reason they are here is to find a way to turn the alien into a weapon that they can control. He asks her if she will cooperate, to which she seems to agree.

Later on, and because she has developed a caring relationship with Konstantin, she takes him on a run around the facility, and under the guise of exercising she informs him that he has a parasitic creature inside him and the plans of the military for him. They agree to evade surveillance and meet later on, when she shows him the bodies of the people the creature killed, and the still living astronaut who was in the spacecraft with Konstantin: he was not infected because he had cancer, which had gone undetected by the tests done before the mission, but which the creature must have been able to sense. It is revealed that Konstantin was well aware of his unwanted guest and of what the creature does when it is not attached to him. Tatyana is shocked at this revelation, and Konstantin tells her that, in order to take care of his son, he will do anything in order to get out of this place.

Tatyana finally determines that she wants to help Konstantin and with the help of another doctor inside the facility, stages an escape. She shows Konstantin a syringe with drugs that will simulate Addison’s disease, the same type of disease the other cosmonaut had. Technically, she reasons this would force the creature out, and hopefully, it would die within the hour outside its host.

As they make their escape, they are ambushed by Semiradov, who sends a response team after them. Tatyana is injured, and Konstantin asks her for the syringe. Upon injecting himself, the alien emerges and kills the team. Tatyana and Konstantin run away, but they do not make it far before Konstantin collapses. Tatyana realises that Konstantin cannot survive without the alien, as they have become completely symbiotic, and she surrenders when Semiradov catches up with them. The Colonel has brought the now heavily injured creature in order to force it inside Konstantin: the latter however has the creature kill Semiradov and his companions, setting Tatyana and himself finally free. However, as the authorities descend on them, alerted to the monstrous experimentation of Semiradov, a revived Konstantin shoots himself in order to kill the creature, and himself alongside it.

Sometime later, Tatyana adopts Konstantin’s son, and it is revealed she herself lived in an orphanage as a young girl.

Cast

  • Oksana Akinshina as Tatyana Yuryevna Klimova, a physician – neurophysiologist.
  • Fyodor Bondarchuk as Colonel Semiradov.
  • Pyotr Fyodorov as Konstantin.
  • Anton Vasiliev as Yan Rigel.
  • Vitaliya Korniyenko as young Tatyana.
  • Aleksey Demidov as Kirill Averchenko.
  • Anna Nazarova as Nurse.
  • Aleksandr Marushev as Convict Ruben.
  • Albrecht Zander as Convict Seryj.
  • Pavel Ustinov as Convoy.
  • Vasiliy Zotov as Biologist.
  • Natalya Shvets as Chairwoman of the Commission.

Production

Principal photography for the film took place in Moscow in the winter of 2018-2019. Most of the film’s scenes were shot at the Shemyakin-Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry.

Release

Sputnik was scheduled to have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2020 before the festival was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sony Pictures had slated a theatrical release for the film in Russia on 16 April 2020, but the film was instead released on video-on-demand in Russia on the platforms More.tv, Wink and Ivi.ru on 23 April. IFC Midnight acquired the film’s North American distribution rights earlier that same month. The film was released in select theatres and on video-on-demand in North America on 14 August 2020.

Upon release in Russia, over one million people streamed Sputnik on More.tv, Wink and Ivi.ru, making the film the most-streamed title across those services in two years, surpassing American titles and other Russian titles.

Box Office and VOD

In its debut American weekend, the film was the fifth-most rented film on Apple TV, and also grossed around $11,000 from 32 theatres.

Trivia

  • ‘Sputnik’ is a word associated with space exploration, as it was the name of the first artificial satellites put in orbit around the earth.
    • It is also the Russian word for ‘companion’ or ‘fellow traveller’, alluding to the companion the commander brings along.
  • The way komodo dragons moved were a major visual reference for the alien creature.
  • Upon its VOD release in Russia, the film was streamed by over 1 million people, making it the biggest release on all platforms in two years.
  • During the metronome scene, shortly after Dr. Rigels says “Two”, for one of the computers in the observation room the sound effect is heard that was used for the computer aboard the ‘Nostromo’ in Alien (1979).
  • Director Egor Abramenko originally planned to have the alien be a mixture of practical and CGI effects.
    • However, the Russian special effects houses were not able to deliver a completely convincing practical creation so he opted to go 100% CGI instead.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Egor Abramenko.
  • Producer(s):
    • Aleksandr Andryushchenko … producer.
    • Alexander Andryushenko … producer.
    • Fedor Bondarchuk … producer.
    • Pavel Burya … producer.
    • Malik Sam Hayat … executive producer.
    • Michael Kitaev … executive producer.
    • Vyacheslav Murugov … producer.
    • Murad Osmann … producer.
    • Ilya Stewart … producer.
    • Alina Tyazhlova … associate producer.
    • Mikhail Vrubel … producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • Oleg Malovichko.
    • Andrey Zolotarev.
  • Music:
    • Oleg Karpachev.
  • Cinematography:
    • Maxim Zhukov (director of photography).
  • Editor(s):
  • Production:
    • Art Pictures Studio.
    • Fond kino (with the participation of).
    • Hype Film.
    • Vodorod (production).
  • Distributor(s):
    • BfParis (2021) (Argentina) (theatrical).
    • Corazón Films (2020) (Mexico) (theatrical).
    • Capelight Pictures (2020) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
    • Capelight Pictures (2020) (Germany) (DVD).
    • IFC Midnight (2020) (USA) (all media).
    • KinoVista (2020) (France) (all media).
    • Scream Factory (2021) (USA) (Blu-ray).
    • Scream Factory (2021) (USA) (DVD).
    • Vertigo Releasing (2020) (UK) (all media).
    • XYZ Films (2020) (USA) (all media).
  • Release Date: 15 April 2020 (Tribeca Film Festival).
  • Running time: 117 minutes.
  • Rating: 15.
  • Country: Russia.
  • Language: Russian and English (subtitles).

Video Link

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