REVIEW: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a short review of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch — an interactive film on Netflix.

Black Mirror as a series has become one of those anthology series events that I look forward to every time it pops up on Netflix. Black Mirror gives us decent-to-great science-fiction stories that don’t always seem far-fetched. But no Black Mirror episode has felt more like an event than its first interactive film — Bandersnatch — which was released on Netflix today.

In Bandersnatch, the choose your own adventure-film, we are introduced to Stefan (played by Fionn Whitehead), a young man living in the 1980s, who is designing his own choose your own adventure-video game.

Bizarrely, Stefan’s game is inspired by a book authored by a man who murdered his wife. The author had lost his mind, and, in Bandersnatch, you’ll see Stefan lose his own as he becomes confused about how much control he has of his own life.

Fellow game designer Colin Ritman (played by Will Poulter) has his own ideas for how out of control Stefan may be, and, eventually, you’ll have to make up your mind as to how much you trust his sanity — only to question how much control you have of what happens. Bandersnatch is fascinating, bewildering, and, to a certain extent, groundbreaking.

Though I am well-versed in Telltale and Quantic Dream-video games, I’ve previously only played one other Netflix interactive experience, but it didn’t work for me. I turned it off after a few minutes. It asked too much of me, made no decisions on its own, and never hooked me. Bandersnatch deserves a massive amount of credit for getting me to play through towards not just an ending but multiple endings. It fascinated me like no other interactive product on Netflix had before.

Thanks to a somewhat interesting story, committed performances from the familiar faces Poulter and Whitehead, and one absurd decision that made me guffaw, Bandersnatch is, for the most part, a curiously entertaining film, event, or whatever you might call it.

The bleak film discusses multiple realities, time travel, free will, and pointlessness. Which brings up an obvious question: do your choices matter? Is the follow-through of the narrative rewarding enough? Well, at least, one of the endings addresses the illusion of free will head-on. In my experience, Bandersnatch is going to have a true Black Mirror ending no matter what you try to do for Stefan. You just get to decide how your decisions will be remembered.

Bandersnatch is tough to review, and it almost doesn’t feel right to give it a score. It pushes the medium in an entertaining way, and it seems like Netflix wants to keep making these interactive experiences. But I do think of this as a film, even though it is interactive and very different from your average Netflix original product. Though I felt compelled to restart and experience multiple other scenes that I hadn’t yet encountered, Bandersnatch suffers from not being entirely worth the replay.

Two or three endings can be fun to play through in one sitting but to go for more than that can be tedious. The interactive element is exciting, and it can be a lot of fun, but it is a gimmick that, to me, wears out its welcome in this narrative. Bandersnatch isn’t as rewarding as I hoped it would be, but it is a compelling experience, at least, on your first few viewings or playthroughs.

6.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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