REVIEW: Blackfish

Short Review: Whoa.

When it comes to documentaries with the power to actually change their viewers’ behavior, Gasland and Super Size Me look like high school kids holding clipboards outside the Starbucks next to the brutal exposé that is Blackfish. Even The Cove, which was deliberately structured like a heist movie, can barely compete for intensity. It’s a movie that will almost certainly keep you from visiting Sea World ever again, and ironically, its biggest weapon in taking them down is the same one Sea World relies on to keep people coming — the awe-inspiring allure of the whales themselves. Nothing against Gasland or Super Size Me, but cheeseburgers and gas wells could never hope to compete with Killer Whales, visually or romantically. Few things in the world are as incredible and terrifying as watching a pod of five 15,000-pound living submarines glide in formation like fighter jets in a coordinated attack, creating a giant wave to knock a seal off an ice floe. Sea pandas they are not.

If one of those things wants you dead, you are screwed, and Blackfish is a movie that’s all about what happens when you piss one off. Killer Whales, revenge, and murder. There aren’t too many animal-rights documentaries that could be described as “metal,” but Blackfish, one part horror movie and one part nature film, fits the bill and then some.

“A whale has eaten one of the trainers,” a caller tells a 911 operator in a 2010 recording.

The call took place after an incident (to use the word in its most understated form) at Sea World Orlando involving trainer Dawn Brancheau and a whale named Tilikum. Who, according to Sea World, “did not attack Dawn,” but rather “became interested in the novelty of her ponytail.” Which would seem rather contradicted by the part of the story where Tilikum ate her arm and dragged her lifeless body around the pool for half an hour.

Brancheau turns out to have been the third person killed by Tilikum, the first being a teenage swim champion working part-time at a now-defunct park called Sealand in Victoria, BC, in 1991, and the second being a 27-year-old “drifter” named Daniel Dukes, who snuck into Tilikum’s tank at Sea World late one night in 1999 and was found the next morning naked and draped across Tilikum’s back with his genitals bitten off. Tilikum, by the way, still performs at Sea World daily.