A little late to the party here, but Bandersnatch is certainly an interesting mix of media.
Stefan Butler is a video game programmer prodigy, and he hopes that an adaptation of a Choose Your Own Adventure book called Bandersnatch will be his greatest achievement. But, how to do it?
Despite this feature being released in December of last year on Netflix, its nature remained unknown to me, having avoided reviews. Written by Charlie Brooker and part of his Netflix franchise Black Mirror – known for incredibly dark views of our society in the future, usually with a focus on technology – and also directed by David Slade (Hard Candy, numerous television shows including Breaking Bad and American Gods).
If you know Black Mirror episodes, you know what to expect, at least… some of it. For a feature-length episode, it is a great addition to the franchise; it is exactly what you would expect from them: unexpected, devious, and dark.
From here on, this review will explain the premise, which in itself is quite a big spoiler. I certainly appreciated not knowing, and having a real surprise! So I would suggest watching Bandersnatch first, if you have any interest in it.
As mentioned above, our hero Stefan is using a fictional book called Bandersnatch as direct inspiration for his video game. The book is one of the Choose Your Own Adventure genre, a genre of books that was extremely popular in the late 70s and 1980s, with this feature taking place in 1984. This is exactly why this “feature”, is an interactive story. Indeed, the first encounter is a completely harmless exchange: Stefan’s father asks him what breakfast cereal he wants. The lower section of the screen slowly blacks out and two options appear. It takes a moment for you to realize… the film is waiting for you to pick one!
The story is littered with these choices, and as the story progresses they become more frequent and morally questionable. Remember, this is Charlie Brooker… some of these choices are going to test you!
Of course, there is no third choice; if you let the opportunity pass, the timer runs out and the film chooses for you.
When these moments occur, it obviously pulls you away from the story to an extent. You will immediately contemplate how each choice will affect Stefan, but you will also contemplate, perhaps, how the writers of the story want it to play out. After all, Black Mirror episodes have a warped personality, and the possibility of “gaming” the story is appealing. Much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books it is based off, the feature quickly becomes a game; each choice diverging down different story routes, some longer than others.
This will appeal to a certain demographic, especially along with its 1980s aesthetic. But overall, it is a great little experience; most definitely something the writers of Black Mirror would do as a feature length episode.
While exploring of different story paths and especially different endings, there’s a mystery to be solved, if not several mysteries, with characters leading you on in certain directions. But the first awkwardness occurs when you reach the “end” of a path, with the gimmick lurching to another choice; going back several scenarios to the last major branch you previously made a decision on. While this is unavoidable, and does allow for experiencing more of the options, it is perhaps as disconnecting as the mechanic can get.
To say more would be spoiling everything. Overall, it was an interesting and at times entertaining experience, especially as a fan of Black Mirror. Experimental, for sure; it doesn’t prove that mixing games and film can work.