Tag Archives: Russian movies

Back in the USSR


by Hope Madden

For low-key, throwback sci-fi horror, Sputnik is a fine time.

A Russian film, Sputnik takes us back to Soviet Union circa 1983 in all its concrete walls, dirty snow and drab greys. Comrade Tatyana Klimova (a formidable Oksana Akinshina) is brought to a secret military facility to consult on a strange case: Cosmonaut Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) has partial amnesia and can’t fully explain his mission’s failure.

First of all, I love that these guys always call each other by their entire first and last names, usually with the prefix Comrade. It requires that they get right to the point, otherwise conversations would become just too long.

Little details like these, along with a convincingly oppressive set design and performances of understated perfection, convey the repressive, even terrifying conditions of the time. It’s a fascinating atmosphere to evoke when introducing something as wondrous and horrific as the film’s little monster.

That’s right, Cosmonaut Konstantin Veshnyakov did not return from space alone, but separating the Soviet hero from the alien visitor is proving very difficult.

Part Venom, part Alien and all manner of Russian, the film pulls in images and ideas that feel familiar—sometimes too familiar—but the execution maintains your interest.

Akinshina’s stoic and unimpressed doctor is at the center of a film concerned with heroism and adaptability. Comrade Tatyana Klimova carries with her an unerring and unemotional sense of what’s right, which is often at odds with the sense of purpose that drives this mission. It’s a solid emotional center for the film, but let’s be honest, who wants to see a monster movie unless there’s a cool monster?

There is! Director Egor Abramenko, working with FX and puppetry, creates something almost del Toro-esque. All phalanges, tail and teeth where teeth ought not be, the creature’s creepy design scores Sputnik plenty of points.

As true to the period as the subdued tone feels, it also robs the movie of a sense of urgency. But Abramenko weaves in elements of an indie drama that work better than they should to round out this picture of Soviet heroes and monsters.

Sloppy Dead

Why Don’t You Just Die!

by Hope Madden

Given that 75% of writer/director Kirill Sokolov’s Why Don’t You Just Die! takes place in a single apartment—one room of that apartment, really—you might be surprised to learn that it’s an action film.

It’s pretty heavy on the action, actually, amplified by inspired framing, kinetic cinematography, sometimes hilarious but always eye-popping choreography, and blood.

Just a shit ton of blood.

This movie is a hoot!

And, yes, it is Russian, so there will be some reading. Not a lot, honestly, and Sokolov’s grasp of visual language is so firm that you really would not have to read a single word to understand every nuance of the film.

Scrappy thug Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) waits outside an apartment door, wary to ring the bell. Behind his back he hides a hammer, tightly gripped. When the door opens, the imposing Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev) looms. Suspicious, big, bald, effortlessly alpha (just ask the neighbor’s yipping dog), he eyes Matvei.

Matvei eyes back.

Things move inside.

Sokolov sets up a raucous mystery. Why is Matvei here? What does Andrei’s daughter have to do with it? Why isn’t Natasha in the country? How can Yevgenich help?

Does every single one of these people have reason to want Andrei dead?

The answer to the last one is yes.

As these characters limp into and out of the apartment (or don’t), Sokolov helps you keep track by virtue of theme music. Each character has his or her own. The quiet, brooding Matvei’s music, for instance, soars like a Morricone Western theme.

But is he a black hat or a white?

With a spare script, visual wonder and energy to burn, Why Don’t You Just Die! promises to snatch your attention like a duffle bag of cash and hang on until exactly enough blood is spilled.

That’s a lot.