A Deliciously Dark Black Mirror Episode
Bandersnatch is a very difficult film to review. As an interactive experience, I’ve been through this 3 times now and every time I’ve had a different ending that’s completely thrown off my initial opinion of this 90 minute choose-your-own-fate adventure. It makes for quite the conflicting watch at times and depending on what choices you make and the endings you receive, your experience with Bandersnatch is likely to swing between excellent and extremely poor. Still, in terms of design and thematic ideas, you can’t deny that Netflix have really nailed the interactivity of this idea and pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in this medium. Bandersnatch delivers those deliciously dark Black Mirror vibes in abundance too. It’s just a bit of a shame that the episode fails to really explore many of its narrative plots in any given detail, giving it a bit of an incoherent feel at times.
Explaining the story in any given detail would be to do the story a disservice but the general premise revolves around a promising computer programmer trying to market his choose-your-own-adventure game to a prestigious computer game company. As he becomes more engrossed in the project, reality and the virtual world become blurred with fourth wall breaks, hedonistic narrative loops and consequential choices playing heavily over the story. The outcome of how far down the rabbit hole your character ends up is left entirely up to you – the viewer. For anyone who’s tried Netflix’s other adventures, the Minecraft Story Mode and Puss In Boots, the method is very much the same here.
At key moments during your watch, options flash up on-screen with a countdown timer encouraging you to make instinctive choices. It begins simply enough, choosing the next record to play on your tape player or your favourite cereal (Team Frosties for the win), before quickly branching out from there with tough choices that alter the narrative drastically. With over 5 hours of content filmed and numerous different endings, most of the play through revolves around tumbling down the rabbit hole, somewhat akin to The Matrix where our protagonist starts questioning their own reality and whether the choices they’re making are their own.
This leads nicely into the thematic core of the episode which revolves around free will or the lack thereof. There’s some very nicely implemented ideas here and the thought-provoking concepts around reality, choices and systems of control are really well fleshed out throughout the adventure. In terms of actual narrative quality though, how much you get out of this will be entirely dependent on how thoroughly you dive into this adventure and how much time you put into replaying this to see everything Bandersnatch has to offer. Therein lies the biggest problem with this film.
For some, this is likely to be a straight 10/10 adventure full of all the usual Black Mirror tropes and ideas with a really thorough, thought-provoking plot at its heart. For others, Bandersnatch is going to be closer to a 3 or 4, depending on the choices you make, how much you explore the concepts and the ending you’re given. Without giving anything away, there appears to be at least 14 or 15 small endings ranging from shocking through to indifferent and even disappointing. This mixed bag of choices is partly the reason Bandersnatch is so hard to review.
The problem with a story featuring multiple endings is there’s bound to be unsatisfying ones along the way. Bandersnatch feels keen to push you back on the right timeline throughout as well with some choices leading to absolutely no difference in the outcome. Making the wrong choice early on resets the loop and forces you to choose a different option. Later on, certain loops keep repeating again and again until you choose the option the film intends you to make, leading up to the one “true” ending or the deviations from that path that lead to the final credits.
While these are fine to look into after finishing the story the way the developers intended, these false finishes and “was that it?” moments some of the endings breed are likely to leave some feeling underwhelmed by this, especially with the Black Mirror name next to it. While some of the episodes in the past have been quite subtle with their messages, playing on that dark undercurrent of misfortune from future technology, Bandersnatch is much more on-the-nose with its message. It’s a very self-aware episode and this sometimes leads to the narrative not quite being as cohesive as it perhaps should be.
Still, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a very interesting experiment and one that’s likely to gain a lot of publicity and critical acclaim for its innovation and multiple endings. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot of talk about Bandersnatch as the year draws to an end and if this is a way to garner more attention for the upcoming season of this darkly satirical series, then this episode has certainly done it’s job. While David Cage’s Detroit: Become Human and 428: Shibuya Scramble both hold the crown for best choose-your-own-adventure narrative, Bandersnatch is a great cinematic effort that comes close to matching these excellent games.
Unlike anything else on the platform, Bandersnatch is a dark, engrossing adventure that doesn’t quite do enough with its story, despite the impressive interactivity. There’s a lot of good stuff here but you have to be dedicated to diving into this adventure multiple times to find them. Whether the average viewer will go through this again after receiving a disappointing ending is anyone’s guess but as a starting point for adventures to come, Bandersnatch is a pretty good effort and well worth experiencing but those expecting something as in-depth as what we’ve seen in the gaming world recently may be left disappointed.