Bandersnatch Review: A unique and slightly flawed Netflix experience everyone should try.
As a fan of both movies and choose you own adventure games, I was extremely eager to play/watch the new Black Mirror “movie” Bandersnatch and see the two mediums collide. Now that I’ve made all of my decisions and seen every ending (except that super-secret one that no one has figured out yet), I feel as if I can say that Bandersnatch is an innovative example that these two kinds of content can come together outside of gaming consoles, but isn’t a perfect work as a whole.
As the viewers, you will be making choices for Stefan (Fion Whitehead) a game programmer who is designing a choose your own adventure game in 1984 that is based on a book by a mad author called Bandersnatch. As he is almost done with the game, he begins to notice he is not in control of his situations and looks to a fellow programmer (Will Poulter) to understand what’s happening. So now, Stefan not only has to understand his past decisions, but also tries to alter his future decisions.
Choose you own adventure games have been around for a while with games like Detroit: Become Human and Until Dawn and Netflix has actually done this before with some of their children’s programs. However, Bandersnatch attempts to be something more with its meta filled story full of surprises and interesting real-world implications that mostly work.
Bandersnatch undoubtedly had its hooks in me from the very beginning with both an interesting story and great mechanics. Personally, I played Bandersnatch with my PlayStation 4 and the experience was heightened and more finely tuned thanks to the film sending a vibration to my controller when I was going to have to make a choice.
Where Bandersnatch’s choose your own adventure mechanic works is in its story because the way that Stefan and Colin are very aware of their decisions not being their own is kind of brilliant. I loved seeing Stefan begin to question whether he was actually making his own decisions and hearing Colin’s monologue about how people aren’t in control of their decisions after him and Stefan take drugs. Bandersnatch actually made me think more about what they’re saying, and it plays very well into how horrifying and crazy the story actually becomes.
Whitehead is especially great as Stefan as he not only captures his loneliness, but also his slowly growing paranoia and fears. It’s incredibly captivating to watch as viewers get to more dark and disturbing endings. Poulter is also fascinating to watch as he brings Colin’s more all-knowing and nihilistic attitudes to the forefront of Stefan’s paranoia. I will say that I did find him to be annoying after a while, especially when you might have to run into a decision to kill him and his reaction is uncaring because of his beliefs. These kinds of reactions make sense for his character, it just took some emotional weight away from him for me.
I also loved how I could feel some of my smaller decisions resonating throughout my experience. For instance, one of the first decisions viewers will make is about what cereal Stefan will eat and while it seems insignificant, this decision will actually make a return later on. Little instances like this are nice to see and there are even some more immersive choices that viewers can find down the line that literally blew my mind.
When thinking about the issues and problems that come from Bandersnatch, it takes a strong analysis of both director David Slade’s use of choose your own adventure storytelling and how it relates to Bandersnatch’s story. The story, itself, can be muddled at times from having to repeat scenarios and it’s tough to say if there was enough depth in the story for a full experience. However, the biggest problem that Bandersnatch runs into is that it breaks it immersive qualities with viewers being able to revisit old choices and change them. With my experience, I actually hit the earliest ending that Bandersnatch has to offer and seeing it bring me back to earlier choice took me out of the experience.
What I love so much about choose your own adventures is that the decisions you make are permanent and you can feel the weight of the choices you make. Bandersnatch just doesn’t have this and only feels like it offers the illusion of choice. Ironically, Slade could be doing this on purpose for us to relate to Stefan’s feelings of not being in control.
It also allows viewers to see the different endings to Bandersnatch and find an ending they like. Personally, there were two endings, in particular, that I found incredibly interesting and possibly the true endings.
SPOILERS – HIGHLIGHT BELOW TO SEE THE SPOILER FOR A FEW BANDERSNATCH ENDINGS
Personally, my favorite endings have to be where Stefan finds himself on a film set and him getting his rabbit and dying with his mother. The first ending fascinates me in so many ways and definitely shows Bandersnatch‘s comparisons to The Truman Show. Seeing Stefan’s reaction is truly disturbing and something that felt so oddly real. The second one to me is the true ending and very reminiscent of the ending to The Butterfly Effect. It’s sad and definitely feels like a rough ending for Stefan, but there’s just something so right about it and fits what Colin says about time-traveling through mirrors.
END OF SPOILER SECTION
However, for those looking for an authentic choose your own adventure experience, they could leave a little disappointed. Not to mention, having to go back to replay decisions repeatedly could turn some people off who were just looking for a quick watch.
Bandersnatch is definitely worth a watch for just the experience alone, but it’s tough to say if this could become a regular thing for Netflix. Personally, I don’t see it. However, Bandersnatch has shown that there could be some promise for other choose your own adventure kinds of content can be possible and give mainstream audiences a unique experience.