dir. Arseny Syuhin.
At more than 7 miles below the surface of the earth, the Kola borehole was – in 1984 – the deepest man-made chasm on earth. It’s also – according to this new Soviet-era chiller – home to a secret Cold War lab: so when an unspecified disaster shuts the site down it falls on a small recon team, lead by virology expert Anya (Milena Radulovic), to go in, gather samples and investigate the human-like cries emanating from down below.
It’s a cracking set-up and one which equally recalls the Russian-sleep-experiment legend as well as a host of sci-fi infection films, particularly when the expedition discover something frozen in the ancient permafrost – a clear nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Other touchstones include – by extension – season three of Stranger Things, particularly as the body horror beats stack up, whilst elegiac grace notes hint at the cosmic bewonderment of Alex Garland’s Annihilation, both in terms of effects work and several set pieces which lean in hard to the otherworldly beauty and horror, often simultaneously.
There are however issues, most strikingly that on streaming service Shudder the film has been hamstrung by a fairly atrocious English dub: this is a Russian story, but character accents range from Soviet bloc to generic Yank, the performance work similarly patchy (though not, it should be said, for lead Anya). The result is sadly alienating and undercuts an otherwise slick aesthetic. Plotting too is a little over wrought: at nearly two hours long there are increasingly confusing contrivances to keep the characters underground, and whilst never exactly boring it lacks claustrophobic momentum, a ticking-clock device introduced then apparently forgotten in the mounting milieu of narrative threads.
All this is a shame: there’s a tighter, better film in here somewhere buried beneath the filmic tundra – one crucially in its mother-tongue. Nevertheless there is enough to commend director Syuhin for capturing transcendent moments of human experience, even if this is somewhat fleeting.