HORROR; 1hr 53min (Russian with subtitles)
STARRING: Oksana Akinshina, Pyotr Fyodorov
War zone: Akinshina
The steppes of Cold War Kazakhstan are an arid expanse and the military research station in which stricken cosmonaut Konstantin (Fyodorov) is being held is as forbidding as a prison in director Egor Abramenko’s eerie first feature. Having recently returned from a reconnaissance mission in which he was the commander of a two-man spacecraft, Konstantin can recall nothing of the landing that killed his partner. Helicoptered in to diagnose what ails him, no-nonsense neurophysiologist Tatyana (Akinshina) initially believes Konstantin has PTSD. In fact, the spaceman’s psyche is a motherlode of the creepy and the deranged. Unknown to him, a gelatinous alien creature has invaded his body, from which it exits to slither and feed while he sleeps. Read it and weep, Ripley!
Tatyana is a radical whose drastic curative methods don’t sit well with higher-ups. But they’re exactly what’s needed here to detach the shapeshifting, purposefully fanged parasite from its host — assuming that can be done. Man and critter appear to protect each other; with his spindly housemate curled inside him, Konstantin is raring to go. “Parasite or symbiote?” the perceptive Tatyana wonders.
When does the one become the other, and how to separate the two? To engineer an attempt, Tatyana must come to figurative and literal grips with a deadly being, and with the agendas of the scientists who seek to exploit it.
The look that Abramenko has gone for is severely pared-down, confined to grim interiors with much of the footage shot at night. It’s a smart counterpoint to the Orwellian violence of a power struggle run amok, for if the nightmare ET knows no conscience or restraint, neither do the men struggling to run the gruesome show. The surprising outcome does bring a closing glimmer of humanity, but those dark nights of the soul are the torment you’ll take away.