Sputnik (2020)

Space is absolutely frightening. For one, as far as we know, space is infinite and thinking about that makes me feel very small and kind of worried about what is out there. Thankfully, the vastness of space means that even though it is very likely that something else is out there, it is less likely that we will encounter them in any meaningful way. Still, the idea of encountering something or somebody outside of the realm of our experience or understanding is terrifying. We can experience a little of it in our lifetimes even without dealing with little gray men. When we are forced to interact with a completely wild animal, the experience is so fraught because we have no idea what the animal might do. In a way, the same thing is true when you meet somebody from another country where there is a language barrier. You cannot fully communicate so there is just a tension as you try to figure each other out.

Considering the form these aliens might take is something spooky to think about it as well. Evolution has been something interesting to observe and study on our planet. As far as we know, humans are the only beings to evolve to walk upright, use tools, and dominate the planet. We were akin to apes, an evolutionary offshoot that either went above or fell above expectations based on what criteria you are judging by. What if the dominant species on other planets evolved differently? For example, the most ‘alien’ thing we have on Earth is probably collectively the insects. Insects look and act strange. What if aliens are more insect like? I mean, that’s basically the aliens from the Alien franchise. What if they are lizards as people theorize is already happening on Earth? Maybe aliens are crystalline based or energy beings? The options and possibilities are troubling and yet exciting.

The first thing I noticed was how dark the movie is lighting-wise. The movie has a dark shadow over it that goes from gentle to harsh in a heartbeat. Even in the brightest, fluorescent-lit rooms there is a pall over everything that reminds me of horror movies like The Exorcist. Part of it feels like the filter they put over things to make them look like cold war era period pieces which this is. It could be annoying but I found it kind of appropriate in a way. The attention to detail in set design and costuming made me feel like I was at a Russian military compound. It is interesting because I am used to watching Russia portrayed in US films a certain way. It is interesting to watch something that is genuinely and totally Russian.
The special effects are top-tier, using brilliant technology and artistry to create visual effects that are frighteningly good.

The acting is incredibly subdued and nuanced. The main character is a female psychiatrist who is tasked with visiting an astronaut in a military base. All of the other characters are military personnel so it makes sense that most people in the movie would suppress their emotions. This is also a time where the Russian government was very oppressive when it came to self-expression and people had to be careful. The subdued tone of the movie only serves to ratchet up the tension similar to movies like The Witch and Hereditary. The actors do a great job of keeping the tension and driving the importance of the events around them. To watch such stoic people unravel is something powerful to watch.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It is a little horror movie and will probably fly under the radar but those who are lucky enough to see it should enjoy it. It definitely owes a lot to Ridley Scott’s Alien and other great first contact horror stories. It also definitely feels like its own thing. There is a deeper horror to movies like this because it is not only the aliens we should fear but ourselves as well.

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