★★ out of ★★★★★
The fungal body horror Russian showcase Superdeep has the trappings of a better movie, but completely undercuts its fabulous practical effects and makeup work with characters who seem to be willfully stupid in their actions.
Directed by Arseny Syusin
I really wanted this to be good.
The Russians continue to make some pretty adventurous science fiction movies, (Sputnik being a really good recent example) and are taking lessons from many of the best that classic science fiction horror cinema has to offer. Superdeep borrows heavily from films like The Thing, Aliens, The Void, and Annihilation, and succeeds in the look of the film. it fell on its fungal face when it came to the script, however, and was a real disappointment. So much potential.
Anya Fedorova (Milena Ridulovic) is a young ground-breaking epidemiologist working in the Gorbachev era Soviet Union. She has been recruited with the lure of a national directorship by her Military Intelligence sponsor, Colonel Yuri Morozov, (Nikolay Kovbas) who is going to investigate a potential breakout of a military bio-weapon experiment gone wrong in a laboratory 12000 meters deep under the Siberian permafrost. SUPER deep. In the helicopter ride over, the lovely Anya receives plenty of attention from the armed assault team escort leader, Major Sergei MacKiev (Sergey Ivanyuk), a painfully honorable marine.
They arrive at the location as it is being evacuated, and are greeted first by a scientist who blows himself up with a grenade, which manages to cause only a speed-bump of a delay. (Nothing to see here, folks!) Then they are received by the facility director Grigoriev (Vadim Demchog) who gives the team and the audience the necessary exposition dump:
The facility is divided into two sections, a living quarter section 6000 meters down, and the laboratory 12000 meters down, accessible by only two high-speed elevators. The laboratory experiments that they have been running are in the deeper section, and only Grigoriev has the elevator key. The laboratory section is so deep that the thermal temperatures are an unbearable 200 degrees celsius, requiring special suits. Though the evacuation of the living quarters is largely complete, there are a number of scientists trapped and ill in the laboratory needing rescue.
As the group descends down the first elevator, Grigoriev goes rogue and sabotages the elevator, managing to knock out the entire party and he slips into the residential quarters. Grigoriev is a one-man red herring maker. They are greeted by a skeleton crew who had yet to be evacuated from the living quarters, all apparently healthy and not infected. Things change when they stumble into a survivor who has crawled up from the depths to get to the living quarters. This survivor, who looks ragged, but otherwise normal begins to produce a huge nasty fungal growth on her back. Test samples from her show a parasitic fungus consuming her cellular tissue at an astounding rate.
Of course, this is the time where the soldiers decide to go on a rescue adventure down to the science block. A hasty and bad idea. They run into Grigoriev, and shoot him on sight, killing him as he falls into the elevator shaft. Another really bad idea. The elevator key was with him, and even in death, he provides a Macguffin. Meanwhile, everybody forgets that there is a malignant mushroom woman who really should be under observation. A REALLY REALLY BAD IDEA.
So, here is where I will cease to summarize the plot as further disclosure would be spoiler-filled. But this much needs to be said. The fungus spreads rapidly. And it has spores. And any high school biology student would know that mold spores can be inhaled easily and proliferate. And this team is being led by a woman who is nominally the leading epidemiologist in the Soviet Union. (facepalm) What’s more, there are specially designed hazmat suits in the complex. Do they get used? Yes, but not like their lives depended on it.
The characters who you would expect to be greedy, selfish, and power-hungry eventually show their colors. The red-shirt characters perish in droves. Anya eventually sheds her Russian winter gear to show off her supermodel physique, because… well… because Milena Ridulovic has a ridiculously great body, and hey, Sigourney Weaver did it too, in Alien. Strip down for your science fiction! (You should have been wearing the hazmat suit, but that’s not nearly as sexy.)
The acting in this movie is really rough. It doesn’t help that it’s dubbed, as perhaps if I listened to it in Russian it would have flowed better, but acting is more than just spoken words. One-dimensional characters remain so, regardless of the language spoken. The exception here is Ridulovic, who does manage to summon enough pathos and spunk to carry the lead. SHe still is burdened with an idiot plot, and she’s perhaps too young to insist on a character who makes more intelligent decisions, even if she appears to be impervious to many of the would-be lethal conditions. I’d also like to blame losing something translation, but no, I think that this back-of-the-cereal-box script was just drastically undercooked.
Now, let me pause to say that the practical effects here are FANTASTIC. It reminds me very much of The Void or the Neill Blomkamp short film Zygote. Though, I would say that both of those films were superior in story and character than The Superdeep. They all effectively use the flesh golem-like monstrosity idea, perhaps most famously done with the Blair-thing in the John Carpenter classic The Thing, the touchstone movie for such body horror.
I think it is important to note that SHUDDER is going out to all corners of the world to find their films. I am optimistic that Russia will continue to produce more horror and science fiction with decent budgets. The Superdeep did feel like a major studio effort in production. Nothing about it screamed, “We’re on a budget!”.
Superdeep is streaming on SHUDDER, and is not rated, but certainly would be rated R for gory body horror, violence, and language. If you want to see a movie with Fungus monsters that plays it smarter, I suggest you check out the SXSW film Gaia. It’s not as campy, but it is a helluva lot smarter than Superdeep.