If there's one upside to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's that film festivals have finally embraced online distribution of their films. It's the first time in years that I've been eyeing the BIFFF roster and Arseny Syuhin's The Superdeep [Kolskaya Sverhglubokaya] was one of the films that jumped out immediately. Just a few clicks later I was watching the film, which, I have to admit, felt quite magical. As it turned out, the film itself was pretty damn kick-ass too. A perfect blend of sci-fi and horror that isn't afraid to indulge genre fans and delivers on all accounts.
Russian genre cinema has been on the rise for quite a while now, so much in fact that they're breaking into the mainstream, landing increasingly bigger budgets to bring their fantasies to life. While that is great for genre fans, it seems it hasn't really helped the distribution of their films on the international stage. Sadly, their go-to solution right now seems to be providing English dubs for the international market, which is downright atrocious. I'm not quite sure what they did for The Superdeep (my guess is they recorded English dialogues and then re-dubbed certain actors both in English and Russian - or maybe they reshot entire scenes for the Russian version), but I wish I'd been able to see the Russian dub. It's the film's only true weak spot.
The Superdeep is one of those films that managed to check lots of boxes for me. A medical facility deep underground where something went awfully amiss, a team of investigators who have to enter the facility as if they were living Half Life and Clive Barker-esque creature designs that are showcased in their full glory. It's one of those film that, even if it was only half as cool as it looked on paper, would still be damn entertaining. The nice thing about Syuhin's The Superdeep is that it turns out to be every bit as good, which makes for a pretty thrilling adventure.
Anya is an epidemiologist with questionable ethics and a firm will to get ahead in life. One night she gets a call, urging her to join a covert mission. The bottom of the Kola borehole houses a secret research facility, but all contact has been lost and the government believes a scientific experiment has gone off the rails. Anya joins a military team that will assist her on her journey down the borehole. When they arrive at the destination, the team is greeted by one of the lead scientists. He proposes to act as their guide, but it's clear he has other plans, as he seems quite prone to bury his discovery with them.
The Superdeep is set in the 80s, which gives Syuhin the opportunity to exploit the grim and rigid Soviet aesthetic to its fullest. While that doesn't sound too appealing, the barren, rudimentary-looking research facility and the oldskool hazard suits give the film a very outspoken visual signature. There's some CG to give birth to the underground construction, but most of the effects are of a practical nature. Moody lighting, slick camera work and some kick-ass monster designs complete the look. It's rare to see a film like this get such a hefty budget, and it's an absolute joy seeing it put to good use.
The soundtrack is pretty ace too. Very moody, electronic-based tracks add oodles of atmosphere, enhancing the mystery and thrill of descending into the ominous facilities. The sound effects too are spot on and there's a pleasantly distorted rumble that gives the film some extra grit. The only issue here is the poor and somewhat distracting dub. Not that there's too much conversation, most of it is pretty functional and factual, even so the mismatched voices made several deaths a little easier to stomach. I'm already looking forward to revisiting this film with the Russian dub.
That same dub makes it quite tricky to gauge the performances. At least there were no issues with the lead, who plays an Eastern-European character. She has a thick accent that fits the part, which I guess is why they left it intact. The Russian characters all have near-perfect English accents (which is more than a little jarring), yet their voices don't really match their looks. I guess if I judge the cast's performance on mute they did a decent job, more than acceptable for this type of genre flick, but hardly exceptional. I can only hope they stop this type of annoying tomfoolery in the future.
Don't expect too many surprises from The Superdeep. Once Anya is on her way to the underground facility, everything moves on rails. The arrival at the facility, the first signs of the troubles ahead, untrustworthy allies, increasingly dire circumstances as the team gets closer to their goal, etc. It's all very typical, at the same time the execution is virtually perfect. The build-up of tension is magnificent, the setting becomes increasingly more mysterious and the pay-off is just tremendous. That's the part where The Superdeep truly shines, simply because the creature designs are just so bad-ass.
Syuhin's The Superdeep is a true best-of experience. It's equal parts The Thing, Clive Barker, Half Life, Doom, Underwater, The Abyss and whatnot, drenched in an omnipresent 80s Soviet atmosphere. The thrill of the adventure is tangible, the grim settings are exceptional and the imaginative and excessively gross creature designs are spot on, this film delivers everything and more. The dubbing debacle is disappointing, but it's not so bad to ruin the film. If you're looking for prime genre entertainment, I don't think you'll find much better this year.