In the UK, when someone googles “blue whale challenge”, the first result is a website compiling a series of suicide hotlines readily available for anyone struggling with feelings of self-harm. This showcase of how to harness curiosity to redirect the vulnerable to life-saving public services could not be further away from the message conveyed in #Blue_Whale. The film follows teenager Dana (Anna Potebnya) in her dangerous search for the people who might be behind the tragic suicide of her once joyful young sister, Yulia (Polina Vataga). 

First brought to mainstream media in 2016, the blue whale challenge took the world by storm after being allegedly linked to several suicide cases around the world. The game, which was said to consist of a series of increasingly dangerous challenges, was never proved real, but experts say the fascination surrounding the story could have exponentially increased its danger. Director Anna Zaytseva wields that morbid fascination to explore how the obscure underground pockets of the web can lead vulnerable teenagers straight into the hands of prying vultures. 

Despite setting out to shine a light on the horrors that can be found on the darkest corners of the internet, Zaytseva’s debut feature falls victim to the same sensationalism that permeates the tabloids that bank on death and sorrow. Whilst the Screenlife storytelling amps the cacophony of anxiety, it does little good when used to graphically depict teenage suicides. As we see the blood running from a freshly broken skull, all that’s left to wonder is: why? 

#Blue_Whale is, at its best, a disservice and, at its worse, a grotesquely distasteful portrayal of suicide that not only fails to enlighten the audience but actively builds into the harmful patterns it sets out to condemn. There is merit in resorting to shock to get a message across – but this definitely isn’t it.



CAST: Anna Potebnya, Timofey Yeletsiy, Ekaterina Stulova

DIRECTOR: Anna Zaytseva

WRITERS: Anna Zaytseva, Evgeniya Bogomyakova, Olga Klemesheva

SYNOPSIS: Rebellious and sharp-witted schoolgirl Dana 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.