I see a lot of American movies that are similar in subject matter to Sputnik. Almost none of them are as intense or clever. This Russian import is a sci-fi/horror mixture along the lines of Alien and Species. If you like stories of that type, be prepared to have your mind blown. Director Egor Abramenko delivers all the suspense you'd expect, along with a welcome focus on character, leading to one of the most nerve-rattling genre films I've seen in years.

Oksana Akinshina (Lilya 4-Ever) plays Tatyana Klimova, a doctor who is about to be terminated from her position due to a controversial treatment she administered. She's approached by a military official, Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk), who wants her to come to a top secret containment facility where a cosmonaut named Konstantin Sergeyevich (The Darkest Hour's Pyotr Fyodorov) is being held against his will. He just returned from a space mission where something went wrong, leaving his fellow cosmonaut dead. Tatyana is shocked to discover that Konstantin has an alien being living inside of him. It comes out for a short period of time each night, then re-enters his body. Semiradov wants her to figure out how to separate the creature from the man.

With that premise in place, Sputnik proceeds to deliver one surprising twist after another. Tatyana discovers that the situation is even more complicated than it already seems. The way the movie layers its plot is nothing short of ingenious. Whenever you think you have everything pegged, a new development is thrown in that shifts how you perceive what's occurring. Watching the movie is consistently riveting for that reason. It's impossible to predict where it will go next.

Aside from the tight plotting, the special effects team deserves a measure of credit. The creature looks thoroughly convincing. Often in (even good) pictures with some sort of alien being, they look very CGI-ish. The entity in Sputnik – a slimy creature with multiple eyes and a head reminiscent of a cobra snake – really becomes a full-fledged character in its own right. Several scenes find Tatyana attempting to form a connection with it, and they're tense because we don't feel like Akinshina is acting opposite a visual effect.

Sputnik is not a film where the actors are secondary to the concept. Tatyana, Konstantin, and Semiradov are all three-dimensional characters, so the performers have plenty of leeway to bring them to life. Watching how they dance around one another adds another layer of pleasure. No one here is all good or all bad, although we do develop a loyalty or two. Each of the main stars captures not only what their characters show outwardly, but also the ways they hide stuff or hold back. Without the emphasis on the people, the movie wouldn't work nearly as well as it does.

On a pure horror level, Sputnik delivers several truly effective shock moments. One individual meets a fate so gruesome that I literally recoiled in my seat a little bit. (That's a good thing; decades of fright flicks have left me jaded to gore.) There's not a lot of that here, but when it does come, it packs a punch, especially given the vibe of continual dread that runs underneath everything. A horrific occurrence could take place at any moment, so you're on edge for the entire running time.

Intelligent, stylish, and scary, Sputnik is a picture every sci-fi/horror fan absolutely needs to see.

out of four

Sputnik is unrated, but contains adult language and bloody creature violence. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.