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- Released: December 28, 2018
- Length: Variable (Anywhere between 40 and 150 minutes depending on user choice)
- Certificate: 15
- Director: David Slade
- Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Will Poulter, Asim Chaudhry, Craig Parkinson and Alice Lowe
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror returns for a more experimental entry, which mostly ends up feeling like a stop-gap on the way to the next plateful of grim technological tales.
Taking place in 1984, “Bandersnatch” follows Stefan Butler, a budding if socially awkward game designer looking to create the next big choose-you-own-adventure game; over time, he finds himself making choices that dramatically shift the timeline, to the point he begins to question an alternative reality. That reality, of course, is us; in a first for both the series and Netflix, the audience can shape the story directly. Whenever Stefan takes a pause, two options flash up on screen for the viewer to pick from. This delivers to multiple pathways for the main character, which includes at least four different endings. There isn’t any one piece of technology placed under satire and criticism here; instead it’s a more generalised view of how this young person is slowly losing control of himself. My issue with the film’s plot is that many of its elements are often put aside the deeper the rabbit hole goes. What starts as a tale of video game development with some thematic trappings turns into a more psychological exploration that aims to generate an emotional response towards Stefan’s plight. The cast is very small to ensure the branching complexities don’t become too confusing and their performances are all quite strong for the most part, but the story around them leaves much to be desired in terms of coherency.
The episode aims to pull you in and allow a full exploration of every option; upon reaching key points or one of several endings offered by the episode, previous options will appear on retro television and allow the user to take different paths. It’s a good way of ensuring the viewer doesn’t exit the Netflix player early but it does dampen both the pacing the themes "Bandersnatch" attempts to communicate. Stopping and starting to go through each choice is equal parts intriguing and hackneyed. Even so, the presentation is still great; “Bandersnatch” has the 80s down to a tee from costume work to popular music tracks. Easter eggs are also in wide use, whether it’s the telling symbol from “White Bear” or the “Nosedive” video game developed in the film, there’s plenty to tide the fans over, including a couple of cheeky fourth wall breaks. At some moments, the film also uses differing shooting formats to draw out the differences between realities in clever ways. “Bandersnatch” is a capable production, but with its weaker plot, these details feel fairly superfluous. You won't be left shocked or horrified by this episode, rather mildly entertained by its more unique setup. The previous episode "Playtest" show creator Charlie Brooker's love of video games and this seemed like the next logical step to take when it came to engaging the audience.
It’s an interesting experiment but “Bandersnatch” ultimately falls well short of the Black Mirror pedigree; the performances certainly aren’t lacking in the slightest, but its themes and plot threads are not cohesive enough to make an impression. Fans of the series will check it out regardless, but I’ll keep waiting for the upcoming season five.
Rating: 3/5 Stars (Fair)