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Film Review

#BLUE_WHALE (2021) Review

Neil reviews another Fantasia Festival movie, #BLUE_WHALE calling it “true edge-of-your-seat” cinema. Catch the film as part of the festival now.




#Blue_Whale screens as part of the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. For ticket and further into check out the Fantasia website.


A provincial Russian town is ravaged by a wave of inexplicable teen suicides. Rebellious and sharp-witted schoolgirl Dana (Anna Potebnya, SAMA DURA) 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. Beginning with actions designed to alienate them from friends and family, the challenge breaks its victims lives apart to push them past any point of return. Hungry for answers and out for revenge, Dana registers for the game, opening a doorway into the cruelest of hidden online worlds. One that will jeopardize the lives of everyone she cares about.


When horror strikes close to real life the genre transcends its limitations to become something insightful. Social commentary within this type of movie often falls foul of poor writing. But for writer and first-time director Anna Zaytseva, that is not the case.

#Blue_Whale pulls from real life stories of dangerous social media trends. I had not previously heard of the Blue Whale trend but a short google told me it was very much rumoured to exist. The idea of being given a series of demoralising challenges via social media which culminate in participants suicide.

Whilst it seems that Blue Whale was initially nothing more than moral panic, a number of copycat groups quickly sprung up resulting in actual deaths. Here, Zaytseva explores the impact of such games on a number of adolescents. There are plenty of wrinkles in the tale but primarily it’s Dana (Anna Potebnya) who is at the centre of the story.

Dana’s sister Yulia (Polina Vataga) is caught up in the game. Having seemingly committed suicide, Dana feels alienated from their mother and stumbles across the challenge and her sisters involvement. Dana signs up to the dangerous game, hoping to expose those behind it. But quickly she finds herself overwhelmed by its power and struggles to break free.

The story is brilliantly executed for a global audience. Whilst the setting and dialogue are in Russian, Zaytseva and her mostly female production team has created on screen graphics in English. With much of the film taking place across social media platforms and instant messages this creates a wonderfully accessible hybrid atmosphere. It pulls away from solely relying on subtitles and cleverly brings the viewer in to the story in an organic way. Given that Nigthwatch mastermind Timur Bekmambetov is a producer on #Blue_Whale will not come as a surprise.

There’s a huge amount to unpack as the story unfolds. #Blue_Whale naturally lends itself to multiple viewings. Around Dana’s story there are plenty of social commentators and other game participants whose stories unfold in various chat windows. These different perspectives offer insight in to the wider world of the game. But more importantly they’re an accurate and caustic commentary on life in the digital age.

There is potential for #Blue_Whale to be interpreted as exploitative of its young characters. Forcing them in to sexually explicit and embarrassing scenarios. Deriding them to the point of isolation and extreme reaction. But within that there’s equal potential to reach at-risk viewers who could be emboldened by Dana’s strength.

In its third act #Blue_Whale does lose some of its narrative steam. It has to become more of a straightforward thriller in order to bring a significant and satisfying conclusion to the screen. In doing so the film throws a number of twists and turns at the screen which feel more contrived than the bulk of its narrative. On a baser level #Blue_Whale still succeeds in keeping the audience guessing.


#Blue_Whale is a nail biter of a movie. True edge-of-your-seat, screaming at the screen cinema. Cleverly constructed to keep the viewer engaged and in the dark, it succeeds on all levels.

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