Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is an old idea in modern-day context. Continuing along the vein of choose-your-own-adventure games that began with game books in the 1970s, Bandersnatch is a film with paths diverging at specific points based on choices made by the watcher. This unique aspect requires viewers to consider Bandersnatch on two separate levels: as a film and as a game.
I would not call this a good film. It’s enjoyable in the right context, but it’s not good. When the gimmick is stripped away, the plot is absolutely nonsensical. Granted, this seems to be the point so as best to exploit two paths but even with the gimmick, any hope for dramatic tension falls flat. Fionn Whitehead, playing the lead role of Stefan, clearly does his best. In spite of this, he is forced into the role of a bland drone. This prevents the audience from connecting with him. The main theme that the film attempts to convey is the illusory nature of free will. This is a point Bandersnatch conveys fairly well, but only if that’s what you’re looking for. If one is looking for a very specific kind of comedy, that can be found here as well. But as a game it is mediocre at best. As someone with a mild addiction to choose-your-own-adventure games, or interactive fiction as the broader genre is called, I can say with a proper level of context that this is a poor example. The choices provided don’t matter, with the majority being superficial and having little or no impact on the ending, and the rest result in an automatic game over. The story, as previously mentioned, seems to have been built around these mechanics, and suffers for it. The pointless and lack of meaningful choices reduces the game to a series of morbidly humorous deaths. This is where that specific kind of comedy can be found, if one has a particularly dark sense of humor. Watching Stefan’s various descents into madness can be a hilarious experience, especially if shared with friends who shared this particularly dark sense of humor.
The biggest issues in Bandersnatch should be self-evident: the film aspects detract from the game aspects by forcing the player along a pre-determined path with minimal impact. The game aspects detract from the film aspects by forcing a nonsensical plot that is never explored to its full potential. This isn’t the first attempt at mixing Hollywood storytelling with interactive gaming. The most recent example was Remedy’s Quantum Break, and though Breakattempted to combine video games with television rather than film, it failed for similar reasons. Bandersnatch seems to be yet another example of why attempting to combine film and television with video games is not a worthwhile venture. If one is looking for futuristic psychological horror, I recommend the Black Mirror series proper, also available on Netflix. If one is looking for a solid introduction to interactive fiction, I recommend Sabres of Infinity by Paul Wang. If one is looking for either in Bandersnatch, I recommend looking elsewhere.
All in all, 2 out of 5.
Not worth the time.