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Movie Review: 'Sputnik' Could Have Been A Sleeper Hit


I mentioned a few weeks ago that the way we have to watch movies right now can lead to the discovery of some unexpected gems. The other side of that is that it’s really hard for any of these little surprises to grow into word-of-mouth successes. 

It was already the case that we have so many entertainment options that we’re all looking in different directions, but now that we don’t have movie theaters to focus our attention, even telling your friends that they have to watch this new movie doesn’t guarantee they won’t just end up rewatching Harry Potter or pulling up the next episode of "The Great British Bake Off."

But I’m pretty convinced the Russian movie Sputnik would have been a sleeper hit—well, if this were a normal summer and the movie were in English. It’s an impressively slick film given its $2.5 million budget: science fiction, horror, and mystery all rolled up, the story of an unorthodox psychologist brought in to assess a cosmonaut who’s recently returned from a disastrous mission to space with amnesia, and, as is often the case in movies like this, he may have also returned with something else, and that something might be inside him.

The movie doesn’t really break any ground, there’s probably nothing you haven’t seen before, but what it does, it does well. It’s tightly constructed—when it’s slow, it’s building the mystery; when all hell breaks loose, it’s appropriately disgusting. There’s plenty of suspense and a few exploding heads, and we get to rail against the usual bureaucratic villains who are fiendishly focused on using people to their own ends. Thankfully, none of it feels stale, even if it does more or less follow a familiar pattern.

I’m not saying Sputnik would be a blockbuster, but it’s just the kind of movie that ends up with a good following and a box office take 10 to 20 times its modest budget. It’s thoroughly engaging, kinda gross, and exactly something I’d tell my friends to check out. Although I don’t blame anyone looking forward to pastry week on the Bake Off.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.