Russian science fiction writing team Boris and Arkady Strugatsky wrote this screenplay, which is based on one of their short stories. It features a police inspector who receives an anonymous call from an isolated mountain motel for skiers and hanggliders. When he arrives, it seems to have been a crank call. As there is bad weather coming, he settles in at the motel to wait it out. A handful of seemingly innocuous but slightly strange characters are staying at the motel, incl. a physicist, a young vacationing couple, and an older wealthy couple. The jovial proprietor makes sure there is interesting conversation at the dinner table. That night, during the storm which also produces an avalanche, there is a black-out. By the time they get the back-up generator up and running, everything – or rather, everyone – has changed. One guy is found dead, and a stranger is discovered in the snow outside, suffering from hypothermia. Another guy is tied to his bed by someone he claims was himself!
The twist of the movie, like that of the short story, is that it starts out pretending to be a garden-variety crime story, and then it turns into a science fiction story with aliens and humanoid robots. The inspector himself has a very hard time accepting this, which is probably the movie’s greatest element of realism, but also holds back the plot development somewhat. And it never becomes clear where the anonymous call came from.
As the movie moved towards the end, I asked myself if this was a better movie than some low-budget American B-movie with a similar plot. And while the directing is more ambitious and the style of storytelling is more serious, the answer I arrived at is that, by and large, it was not. The story is simple, slow-moving and without much depth and point, although there are virtues to be found in the stylism and a few outstanding sequences of mountain scenery. I had hoped the movie was more interesting, and perhaps it is to those who appreciates its genre-bending. For me, however, the movie was only slightly above average, and even at 80 min. it seemed plenty long. But just for the rarity of seeing a Soviet era sci-fi movie I would say it is definitely worth seeing once.
Director: Grigori Kromanov
Cast: Uldis Pucitis, Jüri Järvet, Lembit Peterson, Mikk Mikiver, Nijole Ozelyte, Sulev Luik and others
Runtime: 80 min.
Country: Estonia / Soviet Union