After two Unfriended movies, Searching, Profile, and The Den, you wouldn't think there would be a need for any more thrillers that take place entirely on a computer screen. The gimmick has been done both poorly and effectively. Either way, the mechanics of it are firmly established by now. Characters make a fake Facebook profile for protection, Skype a friend when something creepy happens, Google some clues they come across, etc.
For these cyber-thrillers to survive, it will be up to filmmakers to find fresh stories to tell in the format. #Blue_Whale mostly does that, telling a tale about how easy it is for teens to become sucked into online drama. It had its world premiere at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival.
Dana (Anna Potebnya) mourns her younger sister, who committed suicide by stepping in front of a moving train. She soon learns that this was part of a social media game where the goal is to complete a series of challenges, each one designed to cause players alienation from friends, public humiliation, and - at its highest levels - potential risk of bodily harm or death. Setting up a phony profile, Dana signs up for the game, hoping to suss out those responsible for it. Doing so, of course, requires putting herself through the exact same kind of challenges that took her sister's life.
All the action plays out on Dana's computer or, if she's filming herself completing a task, cellphone. She has to walk naked through the hallway of her school, cut her wrists, and so on. The haunting thing about #Blue_Whale is how it shows her coming perilously close to losing her grip. She thinks that she's a step ahead of the mysterious figure leading the game, yet she's also submitting to that person's demands. Suspense comes from recognizing Dana is naively playing with fire. Each new challenge is worse than the one before, so we worry about how far she'll go.
Director Anna Zaytseva does something a little different with her film. Most of the other computer-set thrillers play out in real time, meaning the audience has to endure watching the protagonist do mundane things like choosing a profile picture or toggling back and forth between apps. #Blue_Whale cuts out that stuff, leading to a pace that's much faster and edgier than its counterparts. That, in turn, makes the stakes seem higher. The running time flies right by because there's not a wasted minute.
The finale of #Blue_Whale is perhaps a bit too over-the-top to completely swallow, but on the whole, this is a suspenseful and timely movie, aided greatly by Potebnya's convincing performance as the determined Dana. It really makes you think about the influence social media has on teenagers.
#Blue_Whale is unrated, but contains adult language, brief nudity, and disturbing images of self-injury. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.