For reference, the film features extended discussion of suicide. If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. Please reach out to services like Samaritans (UK) or you can use Find a Helpline to find a service in your area.
A thrilling, if unbalanced entry to the Screenlife format.
Synopsis: A provincial Russian town is ravaged by a wave of inexplicable teen suicides. Dana grieves for her younger sister, a once-happy kid who suddenly withdrew and stepped in front of a train. Desperate to learn what happened, Dana explores her sister’s online history, discovering a sinister social-media game that encourages youths to take an escalating series of self-harm challenges – 50 tasks in 50 days.
Given the decidedly grim subject matter of Blue Whale it is to the film’s credit that the end product is neither overwhelmingly bleak nor completely flippant. Obviously, if you are particularly sensitive to depictions of suicide and self-harm, you will want to steer clear of this, but that isn’t all that’s on offer here and there is never a risk of it collapsing under the weight of the material. There are certainly moments here that do not shy away from how damaging such acts are.
Like the other Screenlife films of its kind, Blue Whale uses a variety of screens to tell its story, immediately allowing its characters to quickly move from behind a static desktop space with seemingly unlimited, uninterrupted streaming from mobile phones. More than just showcasing the technology and its potential to be used for both ingenious and nefarious ways, Blue Whale is concerned with the idea of hidden lives. The mixing of private and public space via technology is likely the film’s most successful pursuit as online instructions start to have a very real impact on the world around them. The film also interrogates to some degree how online manipulation can be just as potent as that experienced in person.
The first twenty minutes or so have a breathless energy as it rattles through the concept, introduces characters and sets up the early tensions. Anna Potebnya excels as Dana, a young girl desperate to uncover what has happened to her sister. Despite these well-intentioned nods to exploring what drives destructive online communities, it is where the film moves further into ‘reality’ that results in it becoming untethered. The more it departs from the need to be a Screenlife film, the less interesting it becomes and although there is enough going on that you’re unlikely to be bored, it definitely begins to stretch even the film’s internal credibility.
The film does try and pack in some internet lore with creepypasta-style ‘odd’ videos that seem to deliberately echo the presentation of previously cursed media like Ringu. That it is possible to draw on real-life cases of these internet ‘games’ resulting in genuine harm makes this obvious horror fodder but it can’t decide if it is interested in Dana’s individual story or the wider conspiracy. The result is a film that veers between the two, at some points deeply invested in the emotional chasm between Dana and her mother, then dispatching it to increase in scale.
A great hook, compelling performances that sometimes descends into the juggling too many aspects, #Blue_Whale is an interesting and largely entertaining entry to the Screenlife subgenre.
3.5 out of 5 stars
#Blue_Whale played as part of Fantasia 2021.