Movie Review: “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) has struggled through life after the death of his mother, when he was a boy. He is a young adult now, but still requires regular psychiatric therapy and medication. He is also an aspiring video game designer and is inspired by a book titled “Bandersnatch”. The book is a choose your own adventure story and is so complex that it drove the author mad enough to kill his own wife.
Nonetheless, Stefan finds the book to be a work of genius. He pitches the idea to a video game company, who quickly hires him to make the game. Stefan meets and gets support from his idol, a video game designer named Colin (Will Poulter), but now has to get hard at work on the game. He must now write the program for the game, while also writing out every possible storyline decision, every possible story path, and every possible outcome. It will be a massive, complex game, with seemingly endless possibilities. If the game is a success, it will make Stefan’s career. Unfortunately, writing the program, creating the vast web of a storyline, and keeping all the scenarios straight in his mind may drive him mad before the game’s release.
The Pros & Cons
The Concept (+6pts)
The Story (-5pts)
The Cast (+4pts)
The Ending (-5pts)
Pro: The Concept (+6pts)
Overall, this was a pretty original and entertaining concept. Netflix was in the unique position to be able to pull off a movie like this, and I enjoyed the format. A movie where the audience can make decisions for the main character is an interesting idea, although I thought the filmmakers executed it poorly in a few areas. Regardless, I had some fun playing along with this movie and the filmmakers did do a great job of making me feel like I was participating in the story, rather than just clicking a button a few times and watching what happened. At first, it felt like a bit of a gimmick but, before long, I felt like I was a secret character in the story. It was a fun idea, and while I thought the filmmakers could have done a better with the story, I thought they did a great job of making the movie an interactive experience.
Con: The Story (-5pts)
One area where I thought this movie was lacking was the overall story. The characters in the movie even comment on the fact that, if this were just entertainment, why would the story not be more entertaining. The fact that the character’s comment on this, does not make it untrue. It actually validated my thoughts because, if the filmmakers thought this, how could they expect the viewers not to?
We follow a main character who mosty wants to keep to himself, and struggles with the possibility of going insane during the development process of a video game. As a result, not a whole lot could happen. This forced some of the “decisions” to determine stuff like: the brand of cereal that Stefan eats, and the music that he listens to during his commute. Granted, not all of the decisions were this meaningless (actually far from it), but some of them were because the filmmakers wanted to engage the viewer but did not have enough natural, interesting decisions to throw at said viewer. The problem was that, while the concept was fun, the characters and their actions were not. The result was a great, unique idea mixed with a mostly dull story that was, at its absolute best moments, only mildly entertaining.
Pro: Awareness (+4pts)
I did not expect this aspect of the story, but it is definitely in line with the Black Mirror vibe and I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. Unfortunately, I did not think the filmmakers really went anywhere with it, like I hoped they would, but it was a fun tease nonetheless. This was largely responsible for making me feel like the movie was interactive and that I was a part of the story. I do not want to flat out say what I am talking about, because the viewer is definitely supposed be surprised by the reveal. All I will do is let the word “awareness” be a clue, and hope that you know what I am referring to if or when you watch the movie.
Con: Redundant (-6pts)
In addition to having a somewhat bland story, the movie also felt really redundant. With some decisions, the filmmakers force you to go back and forth, over and over again. They try justifying this by having the characters say something along the lines of “every repeat is just one part of a greater, whole narrative”. In other words, they say that even though the film forces you (the viewer) to go back and repeat a decision, it is still forming one large linear (although not chronological) story.
This was an interesting concept to think about, but at the end of the day it still felt very redundant to have to constantly go back and repeat decisions. To make things worse, the filmmakers sort of force you into certain decisions. For example, there are a few times where you are presented with two options, then you choose one of the options, things go very badly, then the film brings you back to the two options you had already chosen between. The second time around, you know one of the options will go very wrong, so you choose the other. Basically, in these decisions, the filmmakers act like you have a choice, but they really force you into making a specific choice in order to move the story further, otherwise you would get stuck in an endless loop.
Pro: The Cast (+4pts)
Okay, if I am being fair, no performance stood out to me as being amazing. That being said, the characters had to sell the dramatic tone, while also selling some ridiculous moments. They had to be believable within the dramatic tone while simultaneously making some ridiculous moments believable. I doubt that this was an easy balance to maintain, but I thought all the actors did a strong job in doing so. They made their characters, and the far fetched premise believable and kept me engaged. There were no incredible performances here, but the entire cast delivered strong performances which made this movie watchable.
Con: The Ending (-5pts)
A side effect of this movie’s redundancy, was that the end of the movie did not feel like the end of the movie. With every “wrong” decision made, the story kind of ends, then forces you to go back and make a different decision. As a result, the ending of the movie does not feel any different than one of these “wrong” decision endings. This causes the actual ending of the movie to feel pretty anti-climactic.
To be honest, I do not know if everyone got this same actual ending, or if other viewers got a different, more climactic finish. All I can speak to is my experience and say that, for me, the ending was very lack-luster. It made the whole decision making premise, the constant back and forth redundancy, and the commitment that I had to finish the story, feel like a waste of time. This is just another example of the filmmakers having a great, unique idea, but failing in the execution of that idea.
Grade: C- (73pts)
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch had a great idea behind it. The idea of having a choose your own adventure movie, made by the folks behind the Black Mirror series, seemed like a great idea on paper. I was pretty excited for it, but found that the filmmakers struggled with the execution. They delivered a fairly mundane story that was very limited on the “choices” the viewer could make. As a result, if you (the viewer) choose “incorrectly”, the filmmakers make you go back and make the “correct” decision, in order to move the plot along.
The filmmakers then force the viewer to go back and forth repeatedly, which makes the film feel very redundant, and makes the ending feel very anti-climactic (because I had already seen several “wrong decision” endings, and the actual ending felt no different for me). That all being said, the unique concept and the strong performances were enough to keep me going and kept me moderately entertained. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch had a great idea behind it but, while it was not exactly bad, the filmmakers could have done a lot better.