By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

From IFC Midnight comes what quite obviously is the Russian counterpart of Ridley Scott’s Alien. And even though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is a plot/concept homaged or blantantly stolen by several other movies. To its benefit, the filmmakers behind Sputnik offer some fresh and exciting ideas of their own. The result is a thrilling and riveting science fiction/horror film that fans of the original Alien are sure to enjoy.

Oksana Okinshana stars as psychiatrist Tatyana Yuryevna, a physician whose unorthodox methods attract the attention of the Russian government dealing with an unorthodox situation of their own. The year is 1983. Russia and the U.S. are in the midst of the Cold War and still share a rivalry in space exploration. A recent Russian space mission ends tragically when two cosmonauts crash land on Earth with only one surviving the mission. Cosmonaut Konstantin (Pyotor Fyodorov) suffers some serious injuries, but miraculously recovers in a surprisingly short amount of time.

As scientists and military personnel observe Konstantin while in quarantine, he begins to show some frightening and bizarre characteristics with no memory of what actually occurred during the mission. With her history of controversial, yet effective methods, Dr. Tatyana Yuryevna gets tasked with the job of uncovering the mystery. As she continues to observe and evaluate Konstantin, it become apparent that he is the host of a powerful and dangerous alien organism.

Written by Oleg Malovichko, Andrei Zolotarev, and directed by Egor Abramenko, Sputnik delivers suspense, scares and gore through a familiar plot. But despite this familiarity, the filmmakers still deliver some different twists that make this film stand on its own. It seems like the filmmakers didn’t attempt to outshine their influences, but, like inventive storytellers, bring some fresh ideas to them. The set pieces are kept simple with the focus remaing on the characters and their stories.

All of the cast members perform admirably, but it is the two leads who work tremendously well together. Oksana Okinshana brings much dimension and range to Dr. Tatyana Yuryevna, a strong and intelligent psychiatrist fighting for respect in a male dominated country. In order to protect herself, Tatyana comes off as a cold, clinical stern woman, but Okinshana subtly reveals the characters vulnerabilities as she experiences and winesses the most bizarre scenarios of her career as a scientist.

As Konstantin, Pyotor Fyodorov takes a similar approach to his cosmonaut character. Konstantin has been trained to be an unflappable and courageous space explorer prepared for some intense situations, but nothing could really prepare him for this mission gone south. As Konstantin, Fyodorov exudes a strength similar to his female lead, but is hiding an utterly frightened man who cannot completely fathom what is happening to him.

And it is this exemplary character development, and the performances that bring them to fruition, that help make Sputnik a truly engrossing film. It also helps that the filmmakers do deliver the necessary shock and awe horror audiences crave today. Sputnik is a horror feature I strongly recommend for fans of this brand of sci fi horror. It should not at all disappoint.

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