Film Review: Black Mirror – Bandersnatch

DIRECTOR: David Slade. WRITER: Charlie Brooker. STARRING: Fionn Whitehead, Will Poulter, Asim Chaudhry, Craig Parkinson and Alice Lowe.

I think it’s safe to say that reviewing Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch is going to be one of the more difficult pieces of work any writer will have compared to those other (what’s the word?) simpler movie reviews. A structured mind-blower from start to finish, this interactive film offers multiple twists depending on the path you choose to take – but what else is to be expected given it is, after all, a Black Mirror production? A well-suited and varied cast, with the edition of Will Poulter (who starred in The Revenant) especially signifying just how far the show has come since its inception, and an intricate collaboration of content all bound together by a common narrative makes this a complex, yet interesting watch.

Charlie Brooker has worked on many other productions, one of which ‘Deadset,’ an apocalyptic thriller TV series

What is Black Mirror?

For anyone unsure about what Black Mirror is exactly, here’s a brief rundown.

Part-satirical, part-commentary on our society’s increasing addiction to technology, Black Mirror explores all different types of technological advances and demonstrates how embracing them could be detrimental. It’s not one for the faint-hearted. Storylines of fictional Prime Ministers fornicating with pigs and pedophiles being coerced into a fight to the death can testify to that. But it will make you question a few things about our world. The scary thing is that a lot of the episodes have accurately predicted more than a couple of future inventions or events – such as the popularity of a political troll, who seems to become more popular the more outrageous they get.

Such is the nature of anthologies, every episode is different. No two are said to even be in the same universe, although episode six of season four featured cameos from previous episodes. Other, more subtle links can also be found, such as the frequent use of the same song in every series – Irma Thomas’ ‘Anyone who knows what love is.’

Black Mirror’s history and format

The show was first picked up by Channel 4 in 2011. It was commissioned for three episodes – the first of which being the aforementioned swine-related story, and was a huge success – albeit mainly just within the UK. A second series was announced, again to be shown on Channel 4, this time consisting of four episodes.

Following the traction the second series received, Netflix came knocking, and offered to sign the show off for an additional two series, each consisting of six episodes. This was when Black Mirror really upped its quality. The story had always been there, but Netflix’s takeover and subsequent injection of money meant the production value was taken to the next level.

Caption: Netflix has over 137 million subscribers worldwide

What’s the story for Bandersnatch?

Bandersnatch follows a young coder’s (Stefan Butler) journey as he looks to program the next big computer game. Based on a novel where readers determine the story’s direction depending on their own decisions, Stefan’s game (Bandersnatch) is revolutionary to the industry. The 1990s saw an influx of popular (and some now classic) games such as Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II released. Before this golden and breakthrough era for gaming, a game where the player decided the direction of the story would have been revolutionary, and big news in the industry. Stefan’s game was consequently picked up by a major gaming company, Tuckersoft, whose main programmer is Colin Ritman – someone who is famous for his hit video games.

As he battles with his inner-demons, Stefan faces certain choices that are influenced by (what can be seen as the main protagonists) Ritman, Stefan’s therapist Dr R Haynes, and his father, Peter. Tensions between Stefan and his father grow as he struggles to make the Bandersnatch Christmas deadline and becomes increasingly more stressed out.

The story involves Stefan believing (or should I say realising?) that he’s being controlled by some existential power. All his life he felt guilty for his mother’s death, making her late for a train meaning she had to catch the next one – which subsequently crashed and lead to her fatality.

Is Bandersnatch worth watching?

If nothing else, Bandersnatch is worth watching simply for the novelty aspect of it. With five individual endings also existing, it is well worth surpassing the 90 minute viewing length (for the default path) and ‘trying out’ different choices. In terms of the actual story, I wouldn’t say it’s the most compelling from start to finish. The actual integration of the decision-making process has been done well, creating a smooth transition and not making the video ever stop – which enhances the feel that you are controlling the character’s life. But in allowing room for this revolutionary concept, Black Mirror has sacrificed some of the intense and gripping direction that has been present in other episodes.

Will Poulter puts in a good performance as the alternative game designer, Ritman, as does Asim Choudhry, as Mohan Thakur, owner of the gaming company Tuckersoft.

Perhaps it was the hype surrounding Bandersnatch’s release, or maybe it’s simply down to previous episodes setting such a high precedent for the franchise, but I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed by Bandersnatch at first watch. I thought Brooker focused too much on the decision making and not enough on providing an exciting watch, for instance numerous times throughout the film the viewer is exposed to slow-paced, seemingly meaningless dialogue. But hey, after all Brooker has demonstrated his brilliance on numerous occasions. Who am I to question his genius? Bandersnatch is interesting and worthy of watching, but it won’t go down as a classic.

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