Though I never had any doubt that I’d end up checking it out, I did have some doubts about the hype around the ‘choose your own adventure’ structure of Bandersnatch. Not because it sounded like a gimmick, but because I had already played series like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games, who used a similar idea to great effect several years ago. The examples definitely go back further than this, but any rate, the idea of choice certainly isn’t new., and I was worried they would go less far with the story for the sake of the technology. But as always, Charlie Brooker has written a fantastic and intriguing standalone story, that uses the idea of choice and free will to its fullest potential.
It’s hard to summarise the premise for a film with more than one, but I’ll keep it as basic as possible. The awkward, dorky Stefan has an important meeting with Tuckersoft regarding his game idea: an adaptation of the fictional novel Bandersnatch, written by a man who was eventually driven insane by his own creation, killing his wife in the process. It’s fairly clear from the start that this endeavor isn’t going to go too well for Stefan, and inasmuch as you can avoid some of his disasters through the binary choices you’re permitted as a viewer, its inevitable that you’ll be tempted to peek at less successful options when you reach the film’s different endpoints. So while it may advertise itself as a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ story, sometimes it feels closer to a game of trying to uncover all the clips, corroborating flowcharts and word of mouth until you’re stuck in a web similar to Stefan’s.
For as outlandish as the premise becomes, the brilliant performances do keep it grounded. My favourite by far is Will Poulter as Colin Ritman, the bleach blonde game designer in the featured image above this review (I couldn’t not use a picture of him, to be honest). With a distinct nasal accent and a strangely nonchalant attitude towards the bizarreness around him to great effect, making him one of the most entertaining and fascinating figures of Black Mirror lore so far. Though given a more subtle character to work with, Dunkirk‘s Fionn Whitehead also has a great turn in the lead role, taking what could have been a creepier, more unsympathetic character and allowing him a level of endearing oddness.
Despite how predictably Black Mirror it can become at times, alongside the fact that it does lean towards looking more like a TV show than a film (as it is billed on Netflix), the fun water cooler discussions afterward more than makes up for it. I can’t think of a film from 2018 than generated more conversation amongst a random array people I know, from who your favourite character was to whether you went back and got all the endings, to even a strange curiosity about cereal choice. I don’t need to tell more people to go watch Bandersnatch, but if you haven’t already, I promise it won’t be a waste of time.