This Cold War-set body horror has all the ingredients for a great gooey throwback: a secret Soviet facility, pleasingly clunky analogue technology, and practical effects in the tradition of the ’80s masters. It’s a pity then that The Superdeep falls into the trap of many films that attempt to emulate period. Everything that works feels blandly derivative, and what creativity is own show is too haphazard to hold its nostalgic homages together.
The plot sees an assorted gaggle of scientists descend into the depths of a Soviet facility (the real-life Kola Superdeep Borehole) to investigate reports of an unspecified disaster. Chief among these is epidemiologist Anya (Milena Radulovic). She is dealing with a guilty conscience over the death of a colleague in an unauthorised vaccine test, and favours a stolidly scientific approach compared to the testosterone-filled soldiers around her. When the group discovers that the previous occupants have been taken over by a virulent, mutated form of fungus, some are determined to fight the spores, while others in the group wish to harness it as a bioweapon.
The Superdeep is unfortunately a pale imitation of the films it attempts to emulate. You can seen the various references congealed together like the luckless victims of the Kola Borehole. But there is none of the steel trap paranoia of The Thing, the visual flair and invention of Annihilation, the (Love)craft of a Stuart Gordon film, the gleeful, gooey satire of Society or Slither, and absolutely none of the humanity of The Girl With All the Gifts. Most obviously of all, Radulovic’s Anya is no Ellen Ripley. She isn’t helped at all by being the only member of the cast with a hint of character so has to carry the shoddy affair like a carthorse in a fetching mustard roll-neck. To add insult to injury, for some reason this Russian production has been dubbed into English, making stilted dialogue even worse.
While the effects are suitably disgusting, particularly as it focuses on individuals as they succumb to the fungus, they are the only element to impress. Despite the confined setting, there is a complete lack of tension and claustrophobia. This is down to both incoherent plotting, as characters come and go, seemingly dispatched off screen without comment, and the jarring editing. Too many scenes melt into others without connective narrative tissue, giving no sense of place. Unforgivable, given the rich potential of the scenario.
The biggest failing of Arseny Syuhin’s debut is that it is a great idea on paper, executed extremely badly. It also feels thematically flimsy. It could have been a Communist spin on Society‘s skewering of conformity, a feminine approach to heroism, even the age-old trope of humanity’s Promethean scientific hubris. There is simply nothing that gives any indication that Syuhin was interested in anything other than stringing some cool, icky scenes together. Fans of Russian sci-fi horror would be better served by Sputnik. Indie body horror fiends should seek out Sea Fever or The Beach House instead.
Available on Shudder from Thu 17 Jun 2021