Charlie Brooker’s TV series Black Mirror has taken numerous steps to highlight the modern day world’s reliance on technology and its potential possibilities along with its pitfalls to show what could happen in a very near future. It’s also gone back to different eras to tell stories as simple as falling in love. They are all told in what appears to be an alternate yet familiar universe with its own set of rules. Some episodes are confrontational and shocking (The National Anthem), others intense (Shut Up And Dance) and others hysterically twisted (Nosedive). There’s a familiarity between episodes that there is always something just not right with the world we’re in and that something sinister that’s always lurking.
The show has attracted some big stars to its stand-alone episodes (John Hamm, Jodie Whitaker, Domhnall Gleason, Bryce Dallas-Howard, Daniel Kaluuya, Jesse Plemons to name but a few) along with some very fine directors of both TV and film (Tim Van Patten, Joe Wright, Jodie Foster, John Hillcoat). So we now come to it’s first feature film, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) is a young computer programmer in the infant days of home computing in 1984. He lives with his father Peter (Craig Parkinson). Stefan has an interview at a fledgling software firm run by the somewhat clueless Mohan Tucker (Asim Chaudhry) and is introduced to gaming superstar Colin Ritman (Will Poulter). He has partially created a video game based on the book Bandersnatch which is a choose your own adventure fantasy. Stefan also has a pyschiatrist Dr Haynes (Alice Lowe) whom he speaks to about a previous trauma and ongoing issues he has that may or may not be sending him on the wrong path.
Brooker and director David Slade (30 Days Of Night, Hard Candy, the excellent Hannibal TV show) have brought to us, via Netflix, an interactive movie where you, the viewer, dictate what happens to the people on the screen. So far, so Choose Your Own Adventure, which is what it is, but to the credit of the filmmakers, and indeed Brooker, those choices are varied and different when prompted on different viewings.
And here’s the crux – my viewing WILL be different to yours. The film is listed as lasting 1 hour 30 minutes, but within the choices you make, the film resets its self giving you alternative choices to those you had initially so it can run longer but not shorter. It will come to an ending you feel was always intended to be set out but the novelty doesn’t wear off quickly and the choices can be as safe or dangerous as you choose. Oh and did I mention that the choices must be picked within a timescale? In a world where distraction is everywhere, here we’re given participation on a level probably not done this well so far. As someone who was aware of the fantasy genre CYOA books and it’s board/video games, they never held appeal to me, but the engaging story and committed cast have you wondering what YOU will do next.
I must point out that I’ve only seen this the one time so I’m unaware of what the alternate version will be should I venture back. But that raises a question – will I venture back? Possibly, because although I do think the ending that I came to is probably the one intended to be seen, the chance to go back and see the alternative is tantalising. I’ll add also that you’re given the option to end the film should you not want to change anything further in the story.
So what does this mean going forward? I’ve seen the word ‘Meta’ attached to many a review or social comment made about this and it’s true, especially when the story develops into a particular reveal (no spoilers here), but will this result in us seeing more interactive films? Streaming is the perfect platform for it but will it fall by the wayside? I don’t know but the potential something like an interactive horror film or series is ripe for the picking. I doubt Brooker will go back to this as he tends not to repeat himself storywise other than his tendency to rarely end on a positive note.
Black Mirror has its ups and downs but it’s consistently good. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch takes bold and innovative steps to maintain that legacy.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 8/10
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is available now on Netflix.