Now this is an interesting development. After years of simply Netflix and chill, we’ve now moved on to “Netflix and participate.” The streaming giant announced recently that their latest fare, an original Black Mirror movie, would be a choose-your-own-adventure film. Sounds gimmicky, yes? But who wouldn’t love the idea of controlling what the little people on the magic box do or say next? Bandersnatch puts you in the driver’s seat, as you play the cruel or merciful god, and try and find the most entertaining route to the end of the story. And it’s a goddamn trip.
Bandersnatch is a book by the late great Jerome F Davies, a genius author who went nuts and cut his wife’s head off. That’s the history we learn from Stefan, a troubled gamer trying to adapt his favourite book into a revolutionary video game. In 1984 London, Stefan is tasked by Tuckersoft to develop the game within two months. Along the way, Stefan meets his hero, game developer Colin, and. . . the rest is basically up to you. Stefan’s decisions are in your hands; everything from what music he listens to on the bus, to whether he should take acid and play on the balcony. And of course, in true Black Mirror fashion, Stefan seems acutely aware that there is something strange about his current circumstance.
“What the fuck is Netflix?”
It figures that Netflix’s first foray into the interactive film medium would be a story about interactive stories, and the implications of being a part of one. As a standalone Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch would be solid, if a bit basic. But with your hand on the controls, it becomes a trippy journey you’re taking together with Stefan. Navigating his maze, avoiding his pitfalls, and bringing everything to a satisfying conclusion. Or as satisfying as you can manage. Program and Control. We can only do so much.
The cast is terrific, with Will Poulter turning in a great performance as the punkish Colin, waxing intellectual on time, reality, and government drugs in your food. Fionn Whitehead (of Dunkirk fame) is a terrific test subject for our depravity, as we watch him jump and dance for our amusement. The choice segments come in naturally, and don’t feel obtrusive or hokey. Instead, every time that choice comes up on the screen, you find yourself genuinely wondering how your actions might affect Stefan, and whether you want to see him suffer or thrive.
Karate Chop Dad —-or—- Kick Him In The Balls
Bandersnatch is a concept piece. It’s proof that this type of entertainment, part way between a movie and a game, can work on Netflix, and it’s implemented incredibly well. Eventually, with more polish and panache, we could see more films like this, and just maybe Netflix will have cornered the market on a new type of movie watching experience. If you’re a fan of Black Mirror, or just weird, trippy storytelling in general, take the time to give Bandersnatch a whirl. You may be disappointed. But you can just go back and try again.