Time to choose your own adventure!
Synopsis: In 1984, a young programmer begins to question reality as he adapts a sprawling fantasy novel into a video game and soon faces a mind-mangling challenge. (Netflix)
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Craig Parkinson, and Will Poulter
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Director: David Slade
Running Time: 90mins
Part game and part movie, Bandersnatch feels like the next logical step for Black Mirror. This choose-your-own-adventure story follows Stefan (Whitehead), a young programmer working on adapting a famed choose-your-own-adventure novel into a video game. Little did he know, he himself was a character in a much larger choose-your-own-adventure game. Over the course of the film, we are presented with a series of choices, each affecting the story and the characters including a video game prodigy named Colin (Poulter) and Stefan’s father Peter (Parkinson), in many different ways. Part of the fun here is travel all the paths to see where the story would ultimately go. With 5+ hours of filmed footage, there is quite a lot to behold (I’ve seen most of it but I still have a few paths left to take).
Of course, this will be best enjoyed when using most newer devices with a decent internet connection, including TVs, game consoles, web browsers, and Android and iOS devices running the latest version of the Netflix app while Chromecast, Apple TV, and some older devices will not be supported. The film offers several pair of choices from the mundane to choices with more severe consequences. Now while some choices may seem inconsequential at first, they will definitely have an impact on the story. It’s quite impressive to see how it constantly adapts. The film starts off with a tutorial, offering viewers 10 seconds to make a choice. If no choice is made, a choice is made for us.
Waiting to see the outcome of our choices could be very tense to watch. Black Mirror has always been a cautionary tale about technology but in this case, we were the technology that was affecting the story (the films even makes one particular fourth-wall-breaking joke that makes it all worth it). By steering Stefan through the story, it is very easy to become emotionally invested. He may be fun to watch, however, where the film faltered slightly was with its story which sounds kind of weird to say. Though Stefan’s story is compelling to watch, the story failed to tie everything together in a satisfying way. While the choose-your-own-adventure aspect of the film worked more in terms of Stefan’s story than the film’s story as a whole. Despite this, the film’s 5 different endings are still satisfying even though you’ll want to go back and trigger the others.
The performances were also excellent across the board with Whitehead as Stefan being the standout. Because of how the film was set up, he was front and center and handled it all beautifully. Seeing that Stefan could get put through the ringer or not, he showed considerable range while getting more or less stressed by potential story choices. Parkinson was great as Stefan’s father Peter as was Poulter as Colin but this was Whitehead’s show.
Overall, this is a tricky film to review as its open-ended nature makes it so it will mean something different to different viewers. However as is, it’s an excellent choose-your-own-adventure film that wasn’t just a gimmick, affecting the story and the characters in compelling and inventive ways. Going back just to see everything the film had to offer will definitely be addictive. Though the overarching story may not have been nearly as effective as it could have, it at least gives us a main character who was easy to become invested in thanks to an excellent performance by Fionn Whitehead. While some Black Mirror fans will surely prefer a straightforward episode, this experiment is still a success and is a unique viewing experience.