Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Netflix
Directed by David Slade
Written by Charlie Brooker
2018, 90 minutes
Released on UK Netflix December 28th 2018
Fionn Whitehead as Stefan Butler
Craig Parkinson as Peter Butler
Alice Lowe as Dr. Haynes
Will Poulter as Colin Ritman
A choose-your-own-adventure about choose-your-own-adventures, with a technological twist. How very Black Mirror. Following one of their best seasons so far, Netflix’s horror/sci-fi anthology giant has released this one-off special just in time to darken your mood for the New Year. Viewers’ collective sanities won’t be the only ones left traumatised by Bandersnatch though: you’ll be personally responsible for dragging Lovecraftian protagonist Stefan down with you. His fate is, quite literally, in your hands.
Or is it? One of the big, heavy questions Bandersnatch busies itself with is the illusion of free will. For all the film’s interactivity, how much do our actions really influence the outcome of the plot here? Is it, like a Walking Dead Telltale Game, pre-destined and pre-programmed? While the story’s inevitability is kind of the point, there is still a lot of room for vastly differing viewer experiences. There’s certainly a route writer Charlie Brooker and director David Slade want you to take (the one with the end credits, and the one which most viewers will end up with), but there’s plenty of deviation along the way. More enamoured viewers will be making the dive a few times to see what they might have missed out on, and Netflix’s interface makes it startlingly easy to do so too.
Taking away the interactive element, Bandersnatch is your typical Black Mirror experience. Well-acted by a range of recognisable British faces (Will Poulter and Alice Lowe make up the more famous of the lot) in an eerily familiar world (in this case, 1980s England), if it weren’t for its interactivity, it’d be Black Mirror-by-numbers.
While the meta touch works for the story and is entirely appropriate for Netflix’s high-profile choose-your-own-adventure, it does feel more on-the-nose than a Black Mirror episode should, ultimately taking the viewer all the way out of the experience. There are a lot of cruel and nasty choices to be made and inflict upon Stefan, but very little sense of consequence. The characters themselves keep tellling us that none of this matters, and the show walks you back to the last junction every time the story reaches a dead end. Compare this with Season 1 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, or even their Batman game, which had far less actual interactivity, but were almost paralyzingly cruel in the choices they asked players (or viewers) to make. One almost longs for the simplicity of Season 3’s Shut Up and Dance.
But then, no-one ever read Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy books for neat plotting or character development. As an experiment in interactive filmmaking, Bandersnatch is hard to fault and a work of staggering complexity. It may be incoherent, unsatisfying and distractingly meta, but it’s so well-done and seamlessly put together, that it manages to feel far less revolutionary than it actually is. What and how much one gets from Bandersnatch is, ultimately, entirely up to the viewer. Or... is it?