For a film taking place seven miles deep inside of the Earth’s crust, Russian director Arseny Syuhin’s Superdeep is surprisingly shallow. Set in 1984, the plot unfolds around a small Soviet research team sent to investigate suspicious activity recorded in the Kola Superdeep Borehole—the deepest man-made hole on Earth—and unknowingly unearth a violent biological threat to mankind in the process. While the period setting and promise of grotesque creatures should call for a strong aesthetic and an interesting analysis of Soviet-era scientific exploits, the final product is massively disjointed and astonishingly disinterested in imparting anything of value at all.
Though an eclectic team of scientists, mercenaries and military officials are elected to venture underground, the narrative is entirely tethered to the experience of Anna (Milena Radulovic), a seasoned researcher who had her last project go belly-up—taking a participant’s life along with it. The events that transpire within the seemingly abandoned subterranean research lab begin to mirror Anna’s past failed experiments—with the added exasperation of a heightened body count and a toxic substance oozing out of the victim’s rapidly decaying bodies. It quickly becomes clear that the infernal heat radiating from the Earth’s core fosters the perfect environment for a fungal species hell-bent on collecting biological victims to convert into spore-covered hosts.
If Superdeep has one thing in its favor, it’s that the stark similarities of plot it shares with John Carpenter’s The Thing are never brought to the viewer’s attention. Yet this is only because it is executed in such a convoluted fashion that much more time is spent thinking about what exactly is occurring on-screen as opposed to what references the film might be making. The plethora of characters whose names and personalities are all but abandoned in order to center Anna (who herself hardly says anything, opting instead to run around cluelessly, somehow still stumbling into solutions at every turn) comes across as careless and half-baked. The use of practical effects toward the back-end of the film come somewhat close to aptly appropriating an ‘80s horror aesthetic (as well as a killer sweater and Converse combo donned by Anna), yet even these moments can’t sufficiently perk up a punishingly stiff two hours.
Among the film’s many technical shortcomings—including jarring cuts, baffling blocking and flat lighting—none is more egregious than the awkward and stilted dialogue, which often fails to advance the plot or offer insight into the interiority of any of the crew. The use of English dubbing is also perplexing, as the film’s 1984 setting, predominantly Russian cast and top-secret Soviet research lab setting are strikingly omnipresent. This clash of cultures often leads to active confusion—so much so that the viewer begins to wonder if this choice of language is a political or artistic examination of the era’s fraught U.S.-Soviet relations. However, the refusal to acknowledge the presence of the U.S.S.R. outside of a short New Year’s Eve broadcast briefly shown in an opening scene points to an intentional disengagement from this framework on the film’s part.
Superdeep can’t help but feel like added fodder for a recent (albeit already tired) subgenre. The voracious consumption of media that is both riddled with ‘80s nostalgia and creepy Soviet secrets has no doubt been popularized by series like Stranger Things and Chernobyl, yet Superdeep hardly even counts as a lazy knock-off. Lacking substance and care for the craft, the film is a spore-atic lesson in muddle-headed filmmaking.
Director: Arseny Syuhin
Writer: Victor Bondaryuk, Sergey Torchilin, Milena Radulovic, Arseny Syuhin
Stars: Milena Radulovic, Sergey Ivanyuk, Nikolay Kovbas, Vadim Demchog, Kirill Kovbas
Release Date: June 17, 2021 (Shudder)
Natalia Keogan is a Queens-based writer who covers film, music and culture, with particular interest in the horror genre and depictions of sexuality and gender. You can read her work in Narratively, Filmmaker Magazine and Paste, and find her on Twitter.