BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH

With video games being the one and only exception, experiencing art is a completely passive activity, with no actual impact on the art coming from the person being entertained. When we watch a movie, we’re not consulted about how the story goes, or what decisions the characters make. That’s up to the filmmakers to decide and we’re just there to experience it. Well, what if we did have the choice to see what happens in our movies? Could we possibly come up with better scenarios? 

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch takes place in 1984, following video game developer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead). He lands himself a job at a successful up and coming video game company, where they agree to sell his video game Bandersnatch, if he completes it within a strict deadline. Stefan begins working on the game at home, but it soon takes a hold of his life, and his mind, making him question if he’s in control of his own actions at all. That’s because he’s not… we are. 

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a choose your own adventure film, similar to those types of books, or even more story driven video games. Here, we’re presented a typical movie narrative with the occasional decision for us to make along the way that influences the story. Some of the choices don’t make a huge impact, such as what cereal to eat, or what music to listen to, but some change the story completely. Just like a choose your own adventure book, you can reach one of the many endings in a matter of minutes. Don’t fret, as you don’t have to start over from the beginning, being able to go back to certain areas and receive well edited recaps to save you some time. They really put a lot of effort into making the experience as fun and non-repetitive as possible. 

It’s not just fun getting to play along with the narrative, but the way they incorporate the interactive gimmick into the actual story was really neat as well. As Stefan falls deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, he feels he’s losing control over his own mind and body, believing some other force is controlling him. I have very limited experience with Black Mirror, but the way they elevated the gimmick to an actual element to the story and character felt very clever and well fit within the universe. Fionn Whitehead is a pretty decent actor too, getting to say a lot more dialogue here compared to his last starring role in Dunkirk. His great facial tics and eye expressions still come through, but he proves here that his performance in Dunkirk was not a fluke. Will Poulter is the standout, though, playing eccentric video game developer Colin Ritman, who works at the same company. Stefan idolizes him and takes to him, and they have a hilarious scene where they trip out on LSD together, with Colin constantly ranting and raving about ludicrous nonsense. If Poulter plays his cards right, he could be quite the prolific character actor. 

While the idea is novel and executed well within the story, I felt the actual story and plot had a lot to be desired. The outcomes all seem to end in fairly similar ways, none of them really offering a new angle to the story. Once a certain development was introduced in the second act, I immediately knew where the story was going to go. There are also a lot of genuinely creepy ideas and some disturbing imagery, but it’s never enough to give it an overall atmosphere. I played through the different options quite a bit, and it took me about 90 minutes, so the overall story is generally pretty thin. The times you have to make choices kind of make the pacing a bit awkward too, where Stefan is making long pauses before doing something, even if we made an immediate decision. Still, being able to have a say in the story added a degree of tension to the events, where you never know if you’re really going to screw it up or not. 

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch doesn’t offer anything novel in the story or character department, but the excellent execution of the interactive concept really elevates it all. It’s certainly a gimmick, I’ll never argue that, but it’s a gimmick that works well. Because of the presentation, I felt like a character going along with, and controlling the story, making it that much more immersive. If this turns out to be very successful, which I’m sure it will, we can unfortunately say hello the plethora of cheap imitators that will try to capitalize on a new trend of filmmaking, totally botching the execution you see here. Remember what The Blair Witch Project started? Yeah, let’s hope that doesn’t happen again. 

7.5/10

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