Black Mirror’s new interactive film Bandersnatch premiered December 28th on Netflix, creating new innovations in filmmaking. Those imagining the word “interactive” might visualize a choose-your-own adventure style video game, with choices given in a somewhat open universe, much like the popular video game Red Dead Redemption 2. “People have never seen this before, so they could come to it with preconceived notions, especially if they think this is a video game or a heavy definition of what interactive is,” Carla Engelbrecht, Netflix’s director of product innovation, explained to interviewers. “We think the enormous delight that will happen is powerful — as soon as folks find out that it’s an interactive Black Mirror episode, their heads explode.” The movie took 18 months to create, and although it allows the viewer to make choices that will impact the outcome, it still holds up as a well-made film.
It is set in 1984 and cinematographically follows the Black Mirror stylization, with its high-contrast colorization and medium close-up shots that really let the viewers resonate with the characters’ emotions. The title is based on a video game called Bandersnatch that was highly anticipated in 1984 but never released. It a nonlinear film following a branching narrative style, meaning that while there is a general storyline that the film follows, the outcome depends on the viewer, and can take as long as two and a half hours before credits roll. The basic story follows Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), a programmer attempting to create the first choose-your-own-adventure style game. The main character is said to resemble Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker’s past, as well. According to director David Slade, “There’s a certain amount of Charlie’s childhood that I was looking for in terms of the truth of the film. I have to trust him, because it’s definitely his story.”
In order to test out the new interactive feature, Netflix released some animated children’s films like Puss in Book and Buddy Thunderstruck in order to test out the functionality of choose-your-own-adventures. Unfortunately, not all devices are compatible with the film, and it will not work with Chromecast, Amazon TV or Amazon Fire. However, for other viewers, the experience is unparalleled. “Going down various branches opens up other potentials, so you may not reach certain things depending on the decisions you make,” producer Annabel Jones explained. “It’s not a simple branching narrative with lots of binary choices — they are all changing your state and what’s open to you.” Amongst some simplistic choices, like what the main character will eat for breakfast, are some moral dilemmas, one in particular that creators are certain viewers will not want to make.
According to Engelbrecht, “This is going to be one of those moments that we think will create such emotion that there will be this beautiful level of engagement and attachment to this story.” Concerning this crucial moment in the film, Jones added, “If it wasn’t interactive, you’d just watch and probably be appalled and worried and frightened for him in that moment. If you’re making that decision, how does that affect your relationship with the film? Do you then feel more wretched?” Some viewers might find the choices daunting. For this reason, Slade advised: “Be yourself. Don’t think that there is a best way — find your own way through it. Otherwise, paralysis will set in about what choices to make. And don’t go back; just keep going forward.” Regardless of how viewers respond to the film, there is no doubt that it is unparalleled and is a forerunner to the future of filmmaking.
Black Mirror Season 5 is also set to release in 2019.