NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on August 25, 2021
Trigger warning – suicide references
#Blue_Whale follows the tragic tale of Dana Brovkina, a young girl who is not only dealing with the recent suicide of her sister Yulya but also has to cope with her mother who has become cold and distant after the aforementioned suicide.
One day while on Yulya’s computer, Dana discovers that her sister was part of a game known as Blue Whale where a mysterious group convinces young people to engage in various tasks that increase in danger levels until inevitably the young people involved end their lives. Dana, determined to find the people she blames for the death of her sister, decides to take part in this twisted game in order to find out who is running it and bring them to justice.
In case that plot description isn’t enough of a massive trigger warning, here it is as spelled out as humanly possible. If discussions and depictions of suicide are in any way triggering to you, this film is not for you. If depictions of physical abuse from parents are triggering to you, this film is not for you. #Blue_Whale does not shy away from showing quite a lot of harsh heavy material that they kind of have to show because it’s a key part of the story being told here.
It doesn’t mean the film is bad, indeed I found the entire film quite riveting and terrifying on several occasions but if suicide is a trigger for you, trust me when I say this one isn’t for you.
For everyone else, #Blue_Whale is an intriguing combination of a crime story and a horror tale told entirely from the POV of a computer screen. If you saw the 2018 film Searching, that’s the visual style that this film uses… as in, it’s practically the exact same in terms of how it’s shot but with a different story behind the choices.
Just like when Searching did it, the use of the computer screen creates an intense and intimate feeling which can also use the limitations of the technology to create tension (for example, one of the biggest scare moments comes when an online video glitches and freezes at the exact wrong second). This style is one that is very appropriate for the streaming age and works best when viewed on a laptop.
The actual story itself is not only unnerving, it feels very real thanks to the growth of online culture, It’s now not uncommon to hear about kids being cyberbullied into hurting themselves or of people using the internet to trick people into doing things, so to turn that up to 11 and create a horror story doesn’t feel outside the realms of possibility. Every element is played so carefully and so straight that you buy it all, even towards the end when they start getting just a little bit over the top with some of the story choices it all still feels upsettingly real.
#Blue_Whale not only touches on issues like suicide, but also other heavy topics like parental abuse and neglect, peer pressure, cyberbullying and depression. It’s certainly using these in a horror context, meaning they’re heightened quite a bit, but it never treats them as jokes. The kids who are part of this weird game all have serious problems that they feel a need to escape from. the film doesn’t sugar coat any of that and makes sure that we see what could drive them to this but also, at least in some cases, argues that these things can be gotten through.
Indeed one of the most powerful scenes involves our main character literally talking someone off a ledge, there’s an understanding that the topics being dealt with are heavy and have to be treated in a certain way.
There’s a lot of neat little touches in #Blue_Whale that really do sell it, from how committed they are to never leaving the screen of a device (they alternate between phone and laptop when needed) to how they can have people live stream murder attempts and there’ll still be people in the chat asking to see boobs, it’s an understanding of online culture that just hits a little bit harder than most other films.
#Blue_Whale isn’t interested in pretending that people online are nice, they know that we’re all basically living in a sewer filled with assholes who will comment “lol” on a suicide video so why not put that in the actual film? It’s dark, but it’s the kind of twisted dark humour that is a nice break from the intensity that’s filling the film.
Where #Blue_Whale kind of flounders is at the end when they do the big reveal of who is behind it, a reveal handled so haphazardly that I honestly don’t know if one of the people in that scene was innocent or not. It doesn’t feel so much like ambiguity and more like they planned a red herring reveal and forgot to point out that it was a fake-out. It’s just so rushed that it feels like they filmed a few endings and then mashed them together, leading to a payoff that’s still satisfying but also just a little more confusing than it could be.
If you aren’t one who could be harmed by the content, #Blue_Whale is an exhilarating horror drama that starts hard and goes for broke. It’s a peek into a dark online world that could exist and it doesn’t shy away from any of it. With a visual style that just keeps being more and more effective, #Blue_Whale is up there with Host and Searching when it comes to films taking place entirely on a computer screen.
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