Black Mirror is a TV show that began on the British broadcaster Channel 4 before becoming a Netflix original. The newest entry into the series is Bandersnatch, which is being marketed by the streaming giant as an interactive film. It allows you to make decisions that alter the story’s progression.
When you begin the program, you are met with a brief tutorial that explains the interactive format. At certain points in the film, you are presented with two choices. The way in which the story progresses depends on your selection. Some have smaller effects, such as determining the soundtrack for the rest of the film, whereas others have a huge impact on the storyline.
For the most part, the gimmick is used well, but it’s just that — a gimmick. Granted, the fact that the story is based on interactive stories gives it a bit of a meta element, but that isn’t enough to make it feel like anything more than a novelty. If Netflix is looking for the big new innovation in television, this isn’t it. Kudos to them for experimenting and taking risks, but the interactive format seems like it would limited in its utility. You wouldn’t want every movie to be interactive. It would get old quite quickly.
There are some quirks with the interactive presentation that are frustrating too. One thing that was disappointing was that the self-rewind feature is disabled. There are the plus and minus ten second buttons available, but those will only take you back to your last decision, no further. The film does allow you to go back and replay with different decisions, but not in every case.
However, the most aggravating thing is that some decisions seem to be entirely inconsequential. There are scenarios in which you choose one action, it plays out, and the film loops back and you have to choose the other option anyway. If the film wanted to go all-in on the interactivity, it should allow all paths to continue and ultimately link back to the “base path”. There is even one case in which you are literally only given one option, which is redundant. Why even give the viewer a “choice” if there is no actual choice.
This is almost certainly the shallowest Black Mirror story yet. The series (typically) has a level of deeper commentary, frequently some cautionary tale about the dangers of technology. That isn’t as prevalent here. Yes, there’s a message, but that message isn’t as strong or impactful. Furthermore, that message is tied to the gimmick. Were it not an interactive film, this would be the most lazily written entry.
There are also some issues in the story presented by the interactive narrative. If you follow certain pathways you can technically “complete” the story without truly completing the story. There are a few decisions that reveal much needed exposition and context which allow the film to make much more sense. If you pick certain combinations, it is possible to not get this information (or be delayed in getting this information), and it seems like there are plot holes. Additionally, there were a few scenes that didn’t make sense in general, even after experimenting around, but it is hard to tell whether or not a different decision earlier in the story would have provided closure.
Overall, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch has an interesting framing device, but its story doesn’t live up to the rest of the series. It’s a cool idea that is worth checking out, but if you really crave interactive storytelling, just play a video game instead.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is now available on Netflix.