The Holiday Trinity
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)
Directed by: David Slade
Starring: Fionn Whitehead and Will Poulter
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
It’s been a running practice for films to have a fixed plot while viewers gander on screens with the narrative playing linearly. But on December 2018, Netflix exclusively premiered Black Mirror: Bandersnatch—an interactive “Choose-your-own-adventure” film for the breakthrough of storytelling with choices laid out on the screen, letting the audience shape their own narrative.
Bandersnatch holds the name of Black Mirror—Netflix’s eerily baffling sci-fi TV series spanning four staggering seasons with a fifth season on the works—and directed by David Slade, the same director that directed the “Metalhead” episode from the show’s fourth season.
Set in 1980’s Britain, the interactive film revolves around the life of Stefan—a young game designer and programmer—who attempts to develop Bandersnatch, an ambitious adventure game based on a choose-your-own-adventure book of the same name. In the course of bringing a complex project to life, Stefan is constantly battling traumas and slowly grasping the notion that a “voice” is controlling his decisions—even the smallest ones.
From the get-go, Netflix did a stellar job in curating interactivity instructions following the same retro vibe of the film. The interaction can be comparable to a basic video game where viewers can select between two options to progress. With these choices, the tides of the plot can be quite unpredictable as various choices can lead to multitude of endings. Exploring and venturing inside story branches would be the only way to progress and is the key to get to the credits sequence.
Each ending would make the audience have different reactions and emotions to be outpoured. Some conclusions are short-lived, some lead to dead ends, and some loop to divert the viewer onto the right path. Though there are endings that the writers truly intend to lead the audience on to the credits screen. With diverging storylines being an element in relaying the narrative, it would take you 5 hours of runtime to complete and get every ending and scene watched through multiple playthroughs.
Netflix has been deliberately hailing out a variety of films and TV shows on the platform and a cinematic charm is consistently present in each unique release, seemingly unparalleled by competitors. Likewise, Bandersnatch is no different to other recent releases on the platform but manages to stand out from the others. Its originality is apparent within frames that denotes eerie visual ambiance and a crafty pale cinematic color palette, justifying a moment of vibrancy that is apparent in Stefan and Colin’s LSD trip and conspiracy ranting scene.
Along with the cinematic elegance comes the production emanating a trip through time. The interactive film captured 80’s Britain with authentically old-fashioned film sets and props, all consistent from start to finish. Additionally, the glitzy and somber hand-picked tracks of the era wrap up an exhibit of scenes sprawling with eccentric charisma.
Everyone in the cast also gave performances that are top notch, some even surprising and surpasses expectations. Fionn Whitehead as Stefan and Will Poulter as Colin acting out antagonized interactions over different storylines make playthroughs worth the while. Fionn also gets into character as an awkwardly problematic oddball while Will had compelling moments with his monologues, giving his character an edge but eagerly leave some wanting more.
The interactive film falls flat with looping sequences that make it repetitive in some scenes. Though it recovers with revelations that plays with the viewer’s mind and leaves a space for investigative theories, that may be the unsettling charm Black Mirror is known for, but now easier to get into by viewers and introducing prospective audience to the universe.
Another thing that Bandersnatch missed in its multiverse-like narrative is that streamlining is needed when you’re deep in the hole. Figuring out what ending/s the viewer missed breaks a certain experience. A log or history of the viewer’s progress in the story may be helpful at the end. This can help map out possible outcomes the viewer missed in a run and may take another playthrough to get the ending missed previously.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a refreshing watch that is a shame to be missed. It almost felt like a cohesive season of the series rather than the tradition of episodic anthology. It may have its pouncing flaws, but it still bounces to be a mind-boggling film and an interactive one at that. In a nutshell, watching Bandersnatch is a deviating tale of exploration, curiosity, and not spilling tea on the computer.
Written by Justin Andrei Dabuet