Black Mirror: Bandersnatch - Review
Bandersnatch loses what makes Black Mirror unique in pursuit of a wildly inconsistent story device.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is the closest the series has gotten to falling off the edge of relevancy. It’s a cinematic, well acted, labored over video game with a general grasp of what makes a good movie. The Black Mirror series has produced episodes over an hour before, so calling Bandersnatch their first “movie” doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Bandersnatch can be 45 minutes, or an hour and a half depending on your choices, giving you the opportunity to replay sections after you have reached one of the multiple endings. Part of what has made the series so exciting is its Twilight Zone-esque format, albeit it with a larger budget and considerably darker subject matter. It involves you, at a certain point placing you directly into the story, but the effect is shallow and small-minded. The story is as dramatic and morose as anything Black Mirror has produced, but with such a heavy reliance on interaction, it loses any analytical sting.
Bandersnatch deserves commendation for its writing. The multi-path, snaking storyline allows choice at opportune moments, rarely offering or refusing one out of place. It does an excellent job of introducing you to how the system works: a scene takes place, and a choice is presented through main character Stefan (Fionn Whitehead). A black bar appears at the bottom of your screen, and two choices appear. About fifteen seconds are given to make a choice (not answering results in the leftmost option), and the story proceeds from there. This allows for tinkering with storylines that ultimately end you in the same place. The illusion of choice is a major component of Bandersnatch’s story, but by the end it becomes all too real. At a certain point, Stefan will go to prison, or he will die, no matter which cereal you chose or which keyword you typed into the safe. The idea is fascinating, but it takes the novelty out of the “choose your own adventure” gimmick when you realize many of the conclusions are slight variations of each other. The main endings are distinct, however, and contain a level of meta-commentary I never thought possible for any series. It can be thrilling in the moment, but the commentary exists solely within the film’s relatively thin universe, sacrificing the “this could happen today” feeling of the best Black Mirror episodes. Bandersnatch is an experiment, and succeeds only because of its mode of storytelling. It’s the kind of roller coaster that keeps you up and engaged, but won’t keep you up at night. For Black Mirror, that is very bad.