Since the beginning of the film industry, we have been provided linear stories. These stories are just one pathway, with characters that follow the path and learn lessons that reflect real life until they ultimately reach the finite ending. However, in the video game industry, we’ve been developing “choose your own adventure” games, which allow the player to make decisions that change the story. With the rise of streaming platforms, there has been a movement to create films like these. The newest example in this genre is the latest addition to the brilliant science fiction anthology series Black Mirror; in the form of a standalone film titled Bandersnatch.
Set in the early 1980s during the rise of computer games, Bandersnatch follows 19-year-old programer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead). He is working on a revolutionary adventure game based on the eponymous “choose your own adventure” novel by Jerome F. Davies (Jeff Minter), who infamously murdered his wife in a fit of madness. Stefan is also dealing with stress from the high expectations of his boss (Asim Chaudhry) and the idea of living up to the accomplishments of fellow game designer Colin Ritman (Will Poulter).
Stefan’s relationship with his father Peter (Craig Parkinson) becomes strained when he starts thinking that his solitary career isn’t a good way to deal with his depression. As he develops the game further, he starts experiencing strange glitches in the program. This leads to him feeling like his life is no longer in his control, and it doesn’t take long for him to discover that the book’s author had experienced the same things. Stefan must find answers before these strange feelings force him to the breaking point.
Since its creation, Black Mirror has been serving one carefully crafted masterpiece after another. Every episode takes us deep into worlds that are so probable, it makes the show more terrifying than it already is. The announcement of an interactive episode seemed like the logical next step, especially since the show migrated over to Netflix. A show about the dark side of technology should have one episode where you can take control of the characters.
So does this new kind of film experience live up to its potential? Well, like any episode of the series, it not only lives up to that, but very much exceeds that. Bandersnatch is a huge step forward in interactive content; not just because it’s exceptionally well made, but because the choice that are presented to you truly matter in terms of moving forward in the story. It’s not just as simple as one choice continues while the other ends. Each choice branches off into its own portion of the story.
In terms of filmmaking aspects, it’s as well put together as any other episode of the series. What’s so great about Black Mirror is that each episode (helmed by a different director) always has its own look and feel. No two episodes in a row are the same. That’s very rare in anthology series, because most of the time, every episode has the same feel despite being made by different filmmakers.
That’s why Bandersnatch stands out from other episodes of the series. It has its own unique look and feel. Its 1980s setting feels fresh and appropriate for the subject matter, while it doesn’t spend its time pushing 80s pop culture references in your face like most films set in that era. The film’s main focus is putting the story first, and making sure you know that you are in control of the main character.
The film is also very well made, from the always fantastic writing of series creator Charlie Brooker, to the stylistic direction of David Slade (the first returning Black Mirror director, coming from the season 4 episode Metalhead). Like other episodes, it never feels like an episode of a TV show. The production quality of the series is so good that they all feel like little movies. So watching this actual film, it never feels like a television production.
But what makes this film so much fun are the choices you get to make. As said above, it’s not simply one choice continues the story while the other brings you an one ending. Every choice presented to you has its own pathway that can take you down a very different road. This also drastically changes the tone of the story, going from something rather scary to something quite funny. That’s not a problem, in fact it helps to make the film more engaging.
We might be witnessing the first step in a new age of film. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch follows an ambitious concept, and though it could’ve faltered in many places (like the various errors in Stefan’s game), it proves that you can make an interactive film that’s both entertaining and compelling. As a very recent Black Mirror fan, this was an appropriate addition to the series, and it would be fun to see more episodes like this in the future. It would also be cool to see much more complicated films done in this fashion. As a lover of films over video games, this is a nice alternative.