This article was originally published in FilmInk magazine
Wholly biased and visually drab, what Blackfish lacks in technical appeal, it makes up for in tenacity. The film is, in more than one way, akin to a piece on A Current Affair - complete with amateurish animated interjections and a selection of interviewees with as biased a viewpoint as could be found. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite lays out the life story of 5,400 kilogram orca, Tilikum, whose continued captivity has cost 3 people their lives, including star SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau. Told from a series of anecdotes from ex-trainers, Blackfish uses Tilikum as the basis for a 90-minute takedown of SeaWorld's often blatantly evil dealings with these animals. Delving into interviews with whale researchers and neurologists, Cowperthwaite posits that, due to their mental complexity, imprisonment induces a form of violent psychosis in killer whales - much to the detriment of the money-grubbing executives at SeaWorld. [[MORE]]Most engaging are the film's digressions into the biological side of things and by the film’s conclusion, Tilikum is as much a human character as his trainers. Cowperthwaite doesn't linger here for long though, prioritising social activism over nature lesson. She's taken great pains to compile footage of Tilikum's aggressions; the end result is a series of horrifying amateur videos from flabbergasted SeaWorld audiences. Ultimately, the deaths of the trainers are not the most tragic aspect, but rather the continued torment orcas face in captivity to this day. Blackfish's lopsided perspective and flat visuals are presented with such an impassioned voice that the film's inherent shortcomings hardly matter. As the interviewees begin to break down while recounting their encounters with orcas, it's hard to imagine any audiences even contemplating taking their families back to SeaWorld. The visceral sentiment is overpowering and falling just short of slander, Blackfish is a harrowing experience.