Surprise! It’s a Black Mirror Movie!
Yesterday Netflix dropped the trailer for the “Black Mirror event” Bandersnatch. Little was known about the project before the release, and the release comes as a surprise to fans of the anthology series. Bandersnatch is essentially an extended episode of Black Mirror made into a “choose your own adventure” film. Directed by David Slade (American Gods, Hannibal), the film stars Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk) as Stefan, a young, unstable programmer who gets lost between reality and the virtual world. The film also stars Asim Chaundry (Click & Collect), Alice Lowe (The Fight), and Will Poulter (Maze Runner: The Death Cure).
The film is interesting at first, and it tells a fascinating and dark story, as most Black Mirror episodes do, but seems to get bogged down by all of the different choices. As Stefan works to create a game based on a choose your own adventure book called Bandersnatch, he begins to realize that his choices may not be his own. You make decisions for Stefan as he follows through the story. Everything from picking what cereal to eat in the morning to deciding whether or not to kill someone and then bury or chop up the body.
There’s a way of telling this story and picking certain choices that lead to a concise hour-and-a-half long film, but it’s hard to determine which choices get you there. There are benefits to going back and forth, as the film almost relies on that to help build on the story, but after a while, it gets old. The one benefit to this structure for the film is that it gives an added element to the premise of Black Mirror. Each episode essentially asks the viewer Are we relying on technology to a dangerous extent? and How far are we willing to go? As we continue with the story for Bandersnatch, it begins to feel more real—by taking part in it, you feel as though you’re actually causing harm. You feel compelled to get a complex ending, but as you lead that way, you know that this is all on you, that every decision was made by you, and the characters may or may not know that. The whole thing gets a bit Meta at times, and in a way, that’s its strong suit.
Black Mirror has always worked best when it grabs hold of its audience and makes them feel something deeper. Being able to actually choose the decisions for Stefan in the film help do that to the greatest extent possible. But it still feels like there’s something missing. There’s some great set up at the beginning of the film for a much deeper and darker story here, but after going back and forth based on your choices, even the deepest darkest choice available feels anti-climactic.
Bandersnatch is still an interesting story, and an entertaining ride. It’s a solid entry in the Black Mirror world, and there are some nice nods to previous episodes. The story completely lends itself to the format of “choose your own adventure” and likely wouldn’t work otherwise. But in the end, it still has its faults. If you’re a Black Mirror fan, it’s definitely something to try out if you have a few hours to spare. Otherwise, it’s not exactly something to write home about, so to speak.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is currently streaming on Netflix.