If you think Arseny Syuhin’s Superdeep feels kind of familiar when you watch it, that might be because the plot bears something of a resemblance to the short film Zygote which was released in 2017 by Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studio. There’s also more than a passing nod or two towards both the classics that are Carpenter’s The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Set in the pre-glasnost 1980s, the plot follows ethically-challenged Russian doctor Anya (Milena Radulovic), who is drafted in to investigate mysterious goings-on at the titular “superdeep” mine, which is located 12kms underground. Strange noises have been heard and people down there have suddenly started acting oddly. Anya is sent in along with a small group of soldiers to try and find out what is going on, take samples of any sort of contamination they may encounter, and then get back out again. Quick. Clean. Surgical.
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Surprisingly, she accomplishes this in the first twenty minutes of the film and the rest of the story takes place… okay, okay, but I had you going for just a second there. Of course everything goes wrong from the moment her helicopter touches down outside the mine and from there it’s a slow, steady descent into mayhem, chaos, betrayal and some genuinely impressive body horror.
Before going any further, we need to talk about the single biggest problem this film, and a lot of Russian films, seem to have. The English dub is…. not good. The voices just don’t fit and the acting is kind of flat in more than one place. I wish that these films would offer viewers a choice of subs or dub. I would take the original language version nine times out of ten (Das Boot being a rare exception where the English version is actually my preferred version, maybe because it’s the actual actors that are dubbing themselves in English).
The plot is also… kind of predictable. Anyone who has seen any movies of this ilk will know almost every story beat it hits, but it executes them pretty damn well for the most part. The cast are, well, they’re okay. It’s hard to really comment when they’re let down by such an uninspired story. It strives for an atmosphere of dread, but it just can’t quite get there. There’s a couple of decent scares but mostly it felt rather predictable.
Where it SHINES, though, are the visual effects for the nastiness that awaits our cast in the bowels of the earth. It’s fleshy and twisted and gross and disturbing and just deeply, viscerally unpleasant. Lovely job, guys, genuinely. The effects are as good, if not better, than big budget Hollywood horrors can manage. It even conjured up comparisons to Alex Garland’s beautiful 2018 movie Annihilation.
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Superdeep is ultimately a derivative movie, standing in the shadow of the genre titans that have gone before, but does that make it a bad film? No, not in the slightest. It’s certainly never boring, but it’s a bit goofy and campy thanks to the not-great English dub and that’s a shame. Perhaps the Russian language version is a bit more serious, but we’ll sadly probably never know unless somehow the original language version makes its way over to Western shores. It’s also got great effects, a decent soundtrack, lovely set design and it’s really well executed from beginning to end. The 1980s aesthetic is so well presented that honestly if you fuzzed it up a little, you could probably get your average movie-watcher convinced that it really is some lost Russian horror gem from the 80s.
Superdeep premieres on Shudder on 17th June.