Director (and co-writer): Anna Zaytseva
Cast: Anna Potebnya, Yekaterina Stulova, Polina Vataga, Timofey Yeletsky
After the mysterious suicide of her sister Yulya, Dana discovers something odd in her sister’s laptop which leads to discovering the inexplicable suicides of many teens in the town. As she digs deeper, she discovers that it all links back to a lethal game called blue whale game. In a scheme to trace down who is responsible for group, she joins the game and participates in the tasks as one by one, each task is more dangerous than the previous one breaking her from society both physically and mentally. As the game becomes not only dangerous for her but also her loved ones, she needs to risk everything in order to find out the mastermind behind this cruel online game.
#Blue_Whale is a 2021 Russian Screenlife horror thriller through and through. For those unfamiliar with what Screenlife is, its basically a term that defines found footage genre but with modern technology screens like phone and computer screens. These two being the main ones used in this film. Co-produced by the pioneer of the screenlife genre Timur Bekmanbetov, this film is a directorial feature film debut for Anna Zaytseva who also co-writes the script. Screenlife is a subgenre that has been on my radar since Unfriended (originally titled Cybernatural when it world premiered in Fantasia a few years ago) which has lead to a lot of great film concepts including a high point with Searching. While Russian films aren’t exactly knowledgeable on my end other than the one or two films from before, the premise is one that sounded like it had great potential especially since it is based on actual cybercrimes in Eastern Europe. The online world is a scary place sometimes especially for these hidden communities and worlds and in the recent years, its really showing how horrible it all can be: manipulative, dangerous, and so on. The story here does portray that element incredibly well.
The execution of the film is pretty good. One of it has to do with the fact that while its a Russian film, the whole communication online is written in English and English articles and whatnot. I personally don’t have any Russian friends so I’m not sure if they communicate in English and not in Russian normally, which is something that I’d really love to know. Or if that is just for the purpose of the film being more accessible to the international audience. However, if there was something to nitpick, the idea that I’m reading in English on screen is more convenient which is a plus, the spoken language is in Russian so it took a little bit of time to get used to not only reading the screen but also not forgetting to catch the subtitles (although, that might be just my own problem), however to be fair, a lot of the dialogue can be mostly deducted from what is going on on the screen itself.
The screenlife element is almost pretty well integrated because it leaves a certain level of unknown. Anything happening off-screen becomes unexpected. For example, there’s one task where she needs to cross the highway and all you hear is the rushing cars and the reactions on screen but never really know how bad the surrounding is making it feel like anything that can happen. Most horror films let the audience see the danger element before the main character does but the thrilling point of screenlife is exactly the opposite, the unknown danger lingering around.
With that said, I can praise screenlife as much as I want but as well as the execution is, the main character is a big part of what makes this film engaging as you spend literally the entire film in their perspective or seeing their face on the multiple screens. Dana, played by Anna Potebnya is absolutely fantastic. Her character is crafted really well. The other characters are a little more shallow in comparison but her character really builds right from the start with her family, the mother-daughter relationship right down to the blue whale game bringing out the isolated elements of how she feels about the world but yet still not being brought down by the negative impacts the game is meant to bring to the teens involved.
Overall, #Blue_Whale might be one of the more straight-forward horror experiences at this year’s Fantasia (from the ones that I’ve seen). Its a horror thriller in its purest form right down to its core. It has a little bit of drama and some lessons to learn from the story itself as it does reflect the current online landscape pretty well. The pacing actually doesn’t give you a lot of time to think or to breathe as its pretty packed and always moving. There’s a really good soundtrack to complement the whole film experience as well. I mean, the ending could probably be better and is a little easy to figure out what the endgame is as it lays out those clues and suspicions pretty well and it is in the details but, it doesn’t take away from the overall experience being yet another well-structured, quick paced and well-scripted screenlife film.
*#Blue_Whale has its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 17th.*