BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH
Director: David Slade
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Actors: Fionn Whitehead, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe, Will Poulter
Reviewed by Evan Maroun
The Rumors were true. Black Mirror is back. However, not in the way we have come to know. No binge-watching this time. Premiering on Netflix, you will not find Bandersnatch quietly lumped in with the rest series. Instead, it stands alone, being touted as a Black Mirror event. Let’s get weird. Yes, even more than usual.
For any gamers out there, Netflix has recently also dropped (erm- ported?) the recently defunct Telltale games’ Minecraft series to Netflix as well, a much more lighthearted interactive adventure. These sort of viewer-driven experiences have surprisingly been primarily left to the video game medium as they are almost a way to gamify a traditional movie or television experience. Not unlike the adventure novels of your childhood, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch takes what some may consider a gimmick and not only uses it to explain the system but also works it into the story in wild and clever ways.
The movie (we’re gonna go with calling it as such) has a pretty straightforward premise at its outset. It follows a game programmer named Stefan, who lives with his father. He hopes to turn the massive choose-your-own-adventure book, titled Bandersnatch, into a video game. This functions not only as a fun nod to gaming history but choosing to use this type of novel in the plot itself already gets you in the mindset of what Bandersnatch is partially about: choices and control.
When a decision pop up, the bottom black bar of the widescreen will move up to accommodate choices that you can control with a remote, controller, or your mouse depending on what your watching on. The first couple choices thrown at you are pretty mundane– like choosing a cereal for breakfast, and the music you listen to on the bus. Easy. That is when the movie starts giving you more difficult and impactful choices, and soon Stefan’s mental state starts to take a
David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) returns to direct this ambitious event after last season’s Terminator-esque Metalhead. He references that episode along with others, which is fine for some, but at times it took me out of the experience. I prefer Black Mirror episodes that don’t connect or openly allude to others, with the exception of Black Museum. I find them the most captivating because you’re more likely to get wrapped up in each messed up version of our reality. Fortunately, these things aren’t lingered on for too long.
You will notice some familiar faces here, most prominently, Will Poulter, who has been doing this kind of dramatic work lately. For a second I wanted to say he is almost unrecognizable under the big wire-framed glasses and 80’s hairdo, but that guy is hard to miss. It’s in the eyebrows. He takes on the role of a well-respected Video Game Programmer named Colin Ritman who also works for the company that Stefan pitches his adaptation to. He looks up to the guy. Depending on what you choose to do, he may or may not help you along the way.
In a lot of ways, Bandersnatch plays out like a twisted, and deeply meta take on Groundhogs Day. Where the movie sets itself apart is that it is structured in a way that allows you to pick a different choice/replay a version of a choice when you have seemingly reached the end of it. There are some logical and terrible decisions to be made, and the consequences of those choices can result in some crazy sequences. It also picks pivotal moments to bookmark and send you back to, so there’s not much extra fat here. No one will find themselves watching the final credits sequence after 10 minutes from instant death. It is planned and written so intelligently that following certain paths can even provide you with a way forward in another one. It worked surprisingly seamlessly, never feeling like I’ve broken the experience and I think that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
Verdict: Watch It!
When the credits flashed before me, I felt like I had gotten the full Black Mirror experience and more. I had only reached 1 of 5 possible endings, but it was an ending I felt comfortable with. This episode, perhaps more than any other, lends itself to multiple rewatches just to witness the extraordinary number of possible combinations one can achieve, and just what kind of insanity Brooker has had up his sleeve. Plus, if this gets the type of attention that it deserves, we will very likely see more interactive experiences pop up on our Netflix home page.