Movie title: Bandersnatch
Date published: 2018-12-28
Director(s): David Slade
Actor(s): Fionn Whitehead, Craig Parkinson, Will Poulter, Alice Lowe
Direction - 8/10
Story - 6/10
Acting - 6/10
User Review( votes)
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Bandersnatch is an uneven revolution for narrative fiction and Netflix continues to redefine movie distribution and access.
Plug Into The World of Bandersnatch
Bandersnatch follows the exploits of an aspiring video game designer named Stefan Butler in the early days of the industry. Stefan builds a game based on his favorite choose your own adventure book, Bandersnatch. As he decodes the book for his project and its author, Jerome F. Davies, his world becomes more and more unstable. Furthermore, the film lets its viewers interact with it via a choose your own adventure system which allows the audience to make choices for Stefan (whether he wants to or not).
Black Mirror’s Shadowy Reflection
For four years Black Mirror has held a mirror up to society and their obsession with technology. Taking our tech-obsessed culture to its darkest extremes, Charlie Brooker created an instant hit. The show’s high production value, stellar casts, and exploitation of society’s darkest fears led many to proclaim the show as a modern classic. Many compare it to the Twilight Zone. On the other hand, this reviewer finds the whole affair condescending, cynical, and navel-gazing. To be sure, the show is well crafted and the casts Brooker assembles are second to none, but the social commentary rings hollow to me. But, even someone as cynical about Black Mirror perked up when Bandersnatch was announced.
See, the first Black Mirror movie sets out to push the envelope in a different way than showing the British Prime Minister engage in lewd acts with a pig. Brooker made the story choose your own adventure. Viewers watch the film with remote in hand and prompt directly them to make a choice for Stefan. The resulting story is unique to each audience and boasts FIVE possible endings. It’s a cool idea, but does it work as well in execution as it does on paper?
Choose Your Own Review
The answer to the question above is…sort of? Bandersnatch is a weird beast to review. Certainly, there is the snag of each viewer receiving a different ending. But Brooker and company made it easy to go back to major plot points, choose different paths, and explore all five endings within about two hours. And that’s where Bandersnatch excels.
The sheer achievement of telling a story in such a complex manner is something to be revered. The concept is so revolutionary that Netflix re-vamped how its apps cache data in order to follow the logic of the branching pathways. The Black Mirror team forced new tech developments outside of their production, and that’s outstanding.
Furthermore, following the branching pathways is a blast. Sometimes the decision is as simple as choosing which cereal Stefan eats for breakfast. Other times you have to make complex moral decisions for him. Like attacking his therapist, or kicking his father in the crotch. Also, the choices aren’t always obvious. Early in the piece, we are faced with a choice that seems like a no-brainer. However, choosing the obvious answer results in the movie’s first ending, and that happens in the first fifteen minutes. I’m unsure whether this format is viable for other types of programming, but as it stands, Bandersnatch achieves a near impossible feat.
And The Rest
Unfortunately, the rest of Bandersnatch isn’t as exhilarating as its primary gimmick. That’s not to say it’s “bad,” it just feels unworthy of such a revolutionary idea. The performances are all fine. And Will Poulter’s Colin Ritman is a fantastic supporting character. But there’s no life to the rest of the piece. The show’s trademark cynicism is an afterthought here. There are shades of it, but its relegated to a particularly meta pathway that wants to show the viewer how sadistic they are for subjecting poor Stefan to all this. But there’s a likelihood viewer won’t ever see that pathway.
The story is really straightforward and boils down to Stefan’s anxiety over childhood trauma. It’s relatable, but never fully explores the depth of his wounds. The whole piece is kind of at odds with telling an affecting story, but keeping the choices coming. Of course, for the first of its kind, it could have been a lot worse.
When it’s all said and done, Bandersnatch is full of highs and lows. The uneven story and pacing make it uninteresting as a piece of entertainment. On the other hand, the choose your own adventure structure is a breath of fresh air for filmed narrative fiction. Ultimately, the experiment works, it just needs to be fleshed out a little more. Regardless of the content, the movie opened up the door for endless choose your own adventure possibilities.