This creepy Russian sci-fi horror picture does not take its title from the famous satellite the Soviet Union launched in 1957. Rather, it invokes the literal meaning of the word, which translates to English as “companion.”
Directed by Egor Abramenko from a script by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev, the movie is set in 1983, and opens with two astronauts in a Soviet space capsule preparing to come back to Earth. From the frost outside its small window to the array of analog controls, the detail is credible, and when something starts to go wrong there’s palpable tension, then terror, then a crash.
The sole survivor, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov) is sequestered at a remote facility overseen by a quietly authoritarian commander, Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk). An unorthodox neuropsychologist, Tatyana (Oksana Akinshina), is summoned to give a diagnosis of the seemingly amnesiac astronaut’s condition. Earlier attempts by another scientist have proved futile and frustrating. But “Sputnik” isn’t set in a declining Soviet Union just to break out spiffy retro designs; the crumbling totalitarian edifice is central to the movie’s theme.
Soon enough, we are let in on the biggest problem — Konstantin did not come home alone. Hence the title. The less revealed about his slimy, slithering companion, the better. Suffice it to say that the creature literally lives on fear.
The movie trades on pretty familiar tropes. Anyone who knows, say, the “Alien” franchise would be able to predict that at least one among the small military and science crew examining the situation wants to weaponize the being.
While “Sputnik” doesn’t make its substantial borrowings from other sci-fi pictures entirely new, it does juice them up enough to yield a genuinely scary and satisfying experience.