The Interactive ‘Black Mirror’ Movie Is A Clever But Frustrating Experiment

black mirror bandersnatch review


They say that film is a director’s medium. So what happens when the audience takes control?

Netflix’s new foray into interactive entertainment is a compelling experiment that ultimately proves why film does indeed work best as a director’s medium. In other words, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is inventive but often frustrating.

Bandersnatch allows the viewer to ‘choose their own adventure’ by selecting options on the screen throughout the narrative of the program (I won’t call it a movie because it sure doesn’t behave like one). Much like the ‘choose your own adventure novels’ you might remember from middle school, this story structure can feel gimmicky and manipulative. The writers of Bandersnatch smartly leverage the gimmick by acknowledging it head-on in the story. This aligns with the ultra-meta ‘Black Mirror’ brand.

The viewer’s choices are frustrating despite the story’s ingenuity. Some options feel inconsequential (the viewer can ask the protagonist to ‘Hit Desk’ when he’s frustrated) while others feel like the wrong answer: if you reach a narrative dead end (even after making a choice that seemed logical), Bandersnatch might force you to ‘Go Back’ and try again. The result is that I spent much of the viewing time trying to find the ending that the story clearly urges you to access. At some points, the interactivity feels like a chore.

Bandersnatch is a retro thriller set in the gaming community of 1984. It’s ‘Stranger Things’ with Phillip K. Dick as primary source inspiration instead of Stephen King and E.T the Extra-Terrestrial. The result is a darker story that probes themes of madness and artistic inspiration. The eponymous video game of ‘Bandersnatch’ becomes the game-within-the-game of the story’s narrative. However, since you’ll likely hit multiple endings that range from sour to successful, you never get the fulfillment provided by a great cinematic climax and resolution.

There’s a lot to like about Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, and it’s a fun to experience a bold revision of the rules of filmmaking. But ultimately, it just might prove why the old rules work so well in the first place.

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