Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review: #Blue_Whale

  • Director: Anna Zaytseva
  • Writer: Evgenia Bogomyakova, Olga Klemesheva, Anna Zaytseva
  • Stars: Anna Potebnya, Yekaterina Stulova, Polina Vataga, Timofey Yeletsky

Review

Teenagers and the internet are a beast that no one has yet figured out how to tame and this easily lends itself to horror: both in real life and on the screen. With it’s world premiere at Fantasia Festival, #Blue_Whale explores how the internet can easily seduce unhappy teens into dangerous games.

Director Anna Zaytseva’s entry into the Screenlife genre (all of the story takes place on the main character’s computer screen and smart phone) is an engaging and sympathetic look at how the  internet provides a place for people to present themselves the way they wish they could be. Your teenage years are already hard enough without the internet there to constantly make you feel like you’re not enough and that’s where games like the Blue Whale challenge come in.

Based on true events, the Blue Whale challenge is alleged to have caused death by suicide of over 130 teens across the globe. Originating with a young woman in Russia, the challenge involves a “game” of fifty challenges that begin innocuously enough but culminate in the person taking their own life for the last challenge. While the concrete number of deaths directly linked to the challenge is difficult to confirm, the real fear of someone being swept up in this is exactly the kind of thing the horror genre loves to explore.

Co-produced by Timur Bekmambetov who is credited with pioneering the Screenlife format (Searching and the Unfriended series also fall under his production and he directed Profile), #Blue_Whale focuses on Dana (Anna Potebnya) who’s younger sister has recently taken her life as part of the challenge and Dana is going to find out who is running the game: the only way to do that is to play.

As tends to be the case with the Screenlife format, Dana is just another teenager who gets little attention from her mother and the attention that she does get is negative. This makes it very easy for her to have seemingly nothing but time on her hands to turn into a wee Liam Neeson. As Dana gets further down the rabbit hole of Blue Whale, she also finds herself evading police, pretending to be a cable company worker, pulling a gun on a grown man and threatening one of the admins of the game. As an adult viewer, these bits of the story are hard to take seriously and then when it is intercut with teenage romance, it’s even more eye rolling, but I do think this film is very effective for a younger audience. I’m simply too old to “get” the intricacies and seduction that an online life can provide, or rather, I just don’t care enough to find out. I can, however, understand the power of being able to curate a version of yourself that is ideal and makes you feel more empowered. Of course, the flip side of this would be a potential lack of self-esteem that would make it easy for online predators to take advantage of you. Potebnya does a great job of being both, a girl on a revenge mission while also still being just as unsure of herself as anyone else her age. Zaytseva keeps the story moving quickly and never wastes time on filler. Some of the visuals feel a bit too young, but again, I’m not necessarily the target audience. Recently picked up by Kion, Russia’s largest streaming service, #Blue_Whale will air as a series and this will suit the story perfectly. Though not without it’s faults, the film does a good job of showcasing how easily people can be manipulated online and just how vulnerable we all are.

Played at Fantasia International Film Festival

Lisa Fremont

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