Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Review: Choose Your Own Horror

   “Black Mirror,” the British science fiction show akin to a modern-day “Twilight Zone,” released a new stand-alone film entitled “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” on Dec. 28 of last year to critical acclaim.

   “Bandersnatch,” set in 1984 England, follows Stefan Butler, a young game designer, on a quest to craft the perfect game, his adaptation of an in-universe “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style novel which is also called “Bandersnatch.”

   There’s a catch with this special, though. Series creator Charlie Brooker and crew have structured “Bandersnatch” in an interactive format. The user controls the gameplay experience by making choices for Stefan, and no two experiences are the same.

   Some of these choices, especially in the beginning stages, are trivial while others are more critical and unsettling for the viewer.  

   Netflix released the official “Bandersnatch” trailer on Dec. 27, and I was fortunate enough to come across it while scrolling through Twitter. Now that I’ve seen it twice through on multiple platforms, I can say for certain that “Bandersnatch” is an innovative, masterfully crafted piece of television that demands multiple viewings to find every possible ending.

   David Slade is the puppet master behind this entity of digital madness. Slade, whose directing credits include episodes of  “Breaking Bad” and “American Gods,” previously directed “Metalhead,” an episode from the fourth season of “Black Mirror.”

   This is a very well-directed stand-alone piece; each scene is meticulously constructed, and Slade utilizes the interactive concept with plenty of flair.  

   The editing and cinematography are also on point, and Charlie Brooker’s script is well-structured and evenly balances horrific and comedic tones.

   Brooker, while crafting a tightly-knit screenplay, also inserts various Easter eggs and references to past episodes of “Black Mirror.” These little tidbits help to tie the series together and are satisfying to find. This was especially true for me after the first viewing.

   The story starts out relatively normal. You wake up as Stefan one morning and take your medication. The first couple of choices you must make as Stefan are (a) when his father, played by Craig Parkinson, asks him what cereal he wants for breakfast and (b) when he is deciding what music to listen to on the bus. These seem like inconsequential decisions, but every choice made in this story has a certain impact on the overall narrative.

   His first big choice is whether to accept or reject an offer from Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhry), the head honcho at the game developer Tuckersoft, to work with his company developing the “Bandersnatch” game.

   If the user accepts the offer, Tuckersoft releases “Bandersnatch” as a flop; if they reject the offer, the player goes down a rabbit hole of somewhat questionable decisions to a variety of different endings. According to Netflix, there are five official endgames.

   Though playing through the default path runs about 90 minutes, viewers can get through “Bandersnatch” in anywhere between 40 minutes and two and a half hours. The user achieves the latter by getting stuck in narrative loops that lead them away from the main story.

   Fionn Whitehead shines as Stefan and manages to carry the film with an ever-present level of anxiety and tension. However, Will Poulter steals the show with his portrayal of Colin Ritman, a noted game designer at Tuckersoft. One certain scene with Colin and Stefan is my absolute favorite of the episode, though I won’t give it away.

   Overall, I would highly suggest checking out “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.” The show continues to dazzle global audiences with episodes ranging from horrific real-world analogies to comedic parodies, and the newest special is a nice way to hold viewers over until the release of season five later this year.

Maxwell Patton

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