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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch – Review

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch - Review
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch - Review
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch - Review


Release Date: 28 December [USA]
Director: David Slade
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Cast: Fiona Whitehead - Craig Parkinson - Alice Lowe



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Posted January 2, 2019 by

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch – Review

Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) loves videogames, so much so that he is creating his own, based on Jerome F Davies’ book, Bandersnatch. The book is a choose-your-own-adventure story and Stefan plans to incorporate this in his videogame.

In order to get the game out into the newly-burgeoning 1980s videogame market, Stefan meets with Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhry), manager at a gaming company where Stefan’s idol, Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), is employed. Stefan’s game intrigues both Thakur and Colin, but if he is to get it ready by the deadline, he’s going to have work fast and hard.

But, the deeper Stefan dives into the lore of Bandersnatch, the more he feels like he’s losing grip on reality. Is he being controlled by an unseen force or, worse, is his entire life an elaborate lie?

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is Netflix’s first foray into interactive entertainment. Like the story within the story, Bandersnatch is a choose-your-own-adventure film. It’s a concept that works brilliantly within the Netflix platform – you can easily click on the selections presented during the film to change the course of the narrative, thus reaching a different conclusion.

It also incorporates elements of video-game play in some sense. There are particular scenes that act like save points which you can return to if the story doesn’t go as planned, or if you want to make a different selection. In that sense, Bandersnatch’s method works better than a choose-your-own-adventure book which would require a reader to keep physically turning pages back and forth.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch - Review

Once the film is done, you have the choice to go back and choose selections you had ignored earlier to reach more conclusions. There are supposedly five different endings, and various combinations of plot selections will lead you to each one. All this is meant to be part of the enjoyment of this new type of film style. But the story isn’t exactly the kind one would want to dwell in. Bandersnatch is exceedingly bleak, and gets more and more macabre as it carries on. There are also a handful of jump-scares thrown in which may put viewers off wanting to revisit the tale.

It does get a tad tiresome when you encounter the same scenes over and over again, and, in all honesty, I have yet to find two of the endings, despite my efforts to manipulate the story to get me there, which I found frustrating.

There are also some story choices that I couldn’t quite fathom the need for. For instance, the film allows the viewer the option to go back to certain instances after the story concludes, which makes sense, but at other times Stefan himself chooses to go back and the narrative restarts on its own. What was the point of giving Stefan agency in these moments? I initially wondered if Stefan actually had the power to go back in time but that didn’t quite fit with the narrative, and ended up taking me out of the experience.

I’m not keen on the self-referential nature of Bandersnatch, especially near the middle of the story when Netflix itself becomes part of the narrative. It would have been a quirky fourth-wall break had the story been more irreverent or comedic, but in a psychological drama, it was jarring and a little cringe-worthy.

As much as I liked having the ability to choose my, or rather Stefan’s, adventure, I would have preferred if the film had left the viewer out of the plot. Having control over the story is exciting but it becomes weird when the viewer has to interact with the characters, especially if the interaction ends up going nowhere. It felt more like a self-aggrandizing moment – Netflix inserting itself into the story to remind viewers that they’d adapted this literary concept for films, just in case you’d forgotten.

It doesn’t help that the story itself is bland. There’s no action as such, and a lot of the mystery is predicable. The story isn’t bad, it’s just not very exciting, especially not for this format. One wonders how different it would have been had the story been more action-oriented or been a murder mystery.

There are some good moments of tension, but these were hampered by the order the viewer ended up encountering them, which is unfortunate, because a number of these tense scenes also add depth to the story. I understand the film needs viewers to go back for repeated viewings, but as I said, this story really doesn’t lend itself to repeat viewings.

The performances are largely decent in the film but it’s really Fionn Whitehead who does the bulk of the work. As the protagonist Stefan, Whitehead is in every scene, and multiple versions of the same scenes, which must have been a taxing shooting process. But, as the film progresses, Stefan becomes more and more disoriented, and Whitehead quite deftly manages to portray how unhinged Stefan becomes. There were never any moments when I felt Whitehead was hamming it up, not even in the more cringe-worthy scenes, which is a credit to him and his acting skills.

Will Poulter as Colin Ritman the game designer is adequate but he doesn’t do much different in this role. It doesn’t help that Colin is more like an omniscient being rather than a character Stefan encounters in his journey – it’s never quite explained how Colin knows the things he does. Though Poulter tries his best, he just doesn’t have enough material to work with.

I understand that this is a pioneering type of film-making, and Bandersnatch is definitely going to pave the way for a new genre of films altogether. It was a unique experience to be able to choose the path of a film narrative, much as one would choose doors and corridors to go through in a game, but Bandersnatch unfortunately also comes across as a case of style over substance. So much thought and preparation was put into the making of this film that the essence of it was left behind – the story. Without a strong story, Bandersnatch doesn’t quite live up to its hype.

Having said that, this is definitely a film people will want to experience, and share with others. But, in the end, Bandersnatch comes across as a prototype, one that can, and will be refined, to make way for astounding film experiences. Until then, we will have to reconcile ourselves with communicating with a half-crazed teenager on a 1980s computer.


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Louis Skye
Freelance Contributor

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