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Movie Review: “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Theatrical Release: 12/28/2018

Theatrical Release: 12/28/2018

Synopsis

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 he 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 it is so complex that it drove the author so made he killed his own wife.

Nonetheless, Stefan finds the book to be a work of genius, and thinks it would make a immersive video game experience. 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), and he now has to get hard at work on the game. He has to 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.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

The Concept (+6pts)

The Story (-5pts)

Awareness (+4pts)

Redundant (-6pts)

The Cast (+4pts)

The Ending (-5pts)

movie-review-black-mirror-bandersnatch

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 participating character in the story. It was a fun idea, and while I thought the filmmakers could have done better with the story, I thought they did a great job of making the movie a unique, interactive experience.

movie-review-black-mirror-bandersnatch

Con: The Story (-5pts)

One area where I thought this movie was lacking was the overall story. The characters in the movie even commented on the fact that, if this was supposed to be entertainment, the story should have been more entertaining. The fact that the character’s commented on this, however, did not make it untrue. It actually validated my thoughts, because if the filmmakers clearly thought this, how could they expect the viewers not to?

We followed a main character who mostly wanted to keep to himself, and who struggled with the possibility of going insane during the development process of a video game. As a result, not a whole lot could have happened. This forced some of the “decisions” to determine stuff like: the brand of cereal that Stefan ate, and the music that he listened to during his commute. Granted, not all of the decisions were this meaningless—many of them were actually far from it. 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.

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Pro: Awareness (+4pts)

I did not expect this aspect of the story, but it was 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” speak for itself, and hope that you know what I am referring to if or when you watch the movie.

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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 tried 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 filmmakers force you—the viewer—to go back and repeat a decision, it is still forming one large linear story, but I did not really feel like that was true, as the repetition felt like a chore.

This was an interesting concept, 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 were a few times when I was presented with two options, then you chose one of the options, things went very badly, then the filmmakers brought me back to the same two options I had already chosen between. The second time around, it was obvious that one of the options would go very wrong, so I basically had to choose the other in order to proceed. Basically, the filmmakers acted like I had a choice, but they really forced me into specific directions.

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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 truly ridiculous moments. I doubt that this was an easy balance to maintain, but I thought all the actors did well with it. They made their characters, and the far-fetched premise believable and their performances were at least enough to keep me engaged.

movie-review-black-mirror-bandersnatch

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 ended, then forced me to go back and make a different decision. As a result, the ending of the movie did not feel any different than any one of these “wrong decision" endings. This caused 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. The filmmakers had a great, unique idea, but I thought they ultimately failed to stick the landing.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

movie-review-black-mirror-bandersnatch

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 I found that the filmmakers struggled with the execution. They delivered a fairly mundane story that was very limited in terms of the choices the viewer could make. As a result, if you choose “incorrectly”, the filmmakers will make you go back and make the “correct” decision, in order to move the plot in a specific direction.

The filmmakers forced viewers to go back and forth repeatedly, which made the film feel very redundant, and made the ending feel very anti-climactic. The reason for this was that I had already seen several “wrong decision” endings, so 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 keep me moderately entertained. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch had a great idea behind it, but while it was not exactly bad, I thought the filmmakers could have done a lot better.

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