Review: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is the first film of the Black Mirror franchise, though calling it a film doesn’t exactly feel accurate – it’s a form of interactive media. It attempts to push the boundaries of what a film can be; to what purpose, I’m not exactly sure.

It’s really difficult to view this as a film; it’s being streamed through Netflix, sure, but watching Bandersnatch is essentially the same experience as playing a less interactive Telltale adventure game. I’m essentially doing the same things watching it as I am while playing Life is Strange, down to having to hold the same controller. In fact, for the second time this month, I find myself comparing a film directly to the Zero Escape series. Bandersnatch is obsessed with the question of ‘what if a character in a piece of media becomes aware they are being controlled by an outside force, and that force is the audience,’ but it’s been done. A lot. Bandersnatch makes an absolutely subpar adventure game, which means it doesn’t exactly operate as a great film, either.

The central narrative of Bandersnatch is too on-the-nose to be effective – a young man is attempting to design a ‘choose your own adventure’-style video game in the mid-1980s, basing his work on a massive novel by a man who went mad while writing it. He, surprise surprise, starts descending into madness as he works on his project, beginning to unravel at the idea of conspiracies and multiple timelines.

After going through many of its endings, I have no idea what it is actually trying to say as a whole. Where a game like Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward manages to wrap 20 or more endings into a cohesive narrative where each ending matters and adds to the others, Bandersnatch feels like an effort in randomness. Most of the endings are outright stupid, many drawing from Black Mirror’s worst cynical leanings.

Bandersnatch is a film committed to a gimmick and little more. The production value is fine enough; it certainly looks like a Black Mirror episode. But it goes off the rails quickly, and nothing ends up being all that satisfying. It hints at sinister possibilities, but it offers up so many options that there’s no centralizing force.

Netflix put in a lot of effort to make a work of little real impact. Video games have been perfecting the ‘interactive movie’ for decades; why watch one that’s less than two hours long with little cohesion when there are dozens of games doing the same thing but better on practically every front? The only selling point here is that it’s live action.

I don’t believe it’s impossible to make a proper interactive Black Mirror episode; interactive movies as a concept work. But Bandersnatch seems to think it can coast off the concept alone, seemingly convinced it’s original when it’s not at all. There’s no substance, just a flowchart of failed ideas. It’s pure novelty that’s not novel, a failed entry in a franchise that was already beginning to show cracks in its most recent season. Here’s hoping season five tries harder.

1.5 Stars Out of 5

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