The texts started coming in Saturday morning: "Bandersnatch WTF!!!" and "Holy f@ck, have you seen the new Black Mirror?" And "A choose-your-own-adventure movie? Whaaaaaaaat?!!"
And the hype is real. Set as a standalone offering from the dark-and-awesome sci-fi series Black Mirror (Season 5 is due later this year), Bandersnatch is what Netflix is calling an "interactive film," because options appear onscreen throughout the flick and you, the viewer, can guide the character through the narrative.
It starts simply enough—selecting one breakfast cereal over another, or choosing what tape to listen to on the bus—but the choices get much more severe as you push the film's protagonist down different narrative paths.
Set in 1984, the story revolves around a young video-game creator attempting to build a choose-your-own-adventure-style game. Themes of destiny, parallel worlds, predetermination and free will percolate throughout the film, breaking the fourth wall between audience and entertainment on more than one occasion.
Some critics are calling Bandersnatch a gimmick, claiming too many of the choices lead in the same direction and that act of choosing pulls viewers out of the story because we're left wondering "what if" we'd selected the other option.
It's a valid point, but in this case, with this story, the anxiety about making the "wrong choice" fits the plot and themes of the narrative. Netflix and Black Mirror need to be commended for putting their talents and money into trying something new and exciting amidst an entertainment spectrum dominated by remakes, reimaginings and money-chasing sequels.
And with at least nine potential endings, Bandersnatch certainly has the "wormhole-marathon" qualities holiday binge-watchers can get into. (It also has one of the best LSD sequences ever filmed and a pretty good rant about Pac-Man).
The choose-your-own-adventure concept is not brand new. Netflix has toyed with it on animated children's shows (Puss in Boots: Trapped in an Epic Tale) and last January, Steven Soderbergh and HBO launched an interactive series called Mosiac that allowed viewers to use an app to determine what they watched, shifting character perspectives and deciding where their attention/viewing experience would focus.
But there is a local connection here as well. Back in 2010, Whistler Creek Productions filmmaker Stuart Andrews created Mystery Line, a choose-your-own-adventure short for the Heavy Hitting HorrorFest, the first year it was held at the Fairmont.
Screening his segments before the intermissions, each of the 1,100 audience members was able to "vote" via cellphone app in order to control the direction of the story. And it worked.
The following year, HorrorFest favourites Luchagore Productions filmed a choose-your-own-adventure web series, shooting subsequent episodes only after fans had selected who would die next. So if this type of entertainment becomes the next big thing, let's make sure to edit the Wikipedia entry: Whistler did it first.
In the theatres this week, Escape Room opens. No press screening for this one, but it looks like a thriller/horror in the vein of Saw in which a group of young victims needs to solve puzzles to survive. With a largely unknown cast and a director in need of a hit after his last outing (Insidious: The Last Key), this one looks like dumb fun. (For smart fun, here's a shout-out to Escape! Whistler, which features four actual escape rooms right in Whistler Village and is a really kick-ass way to s pend an hour. Check them out.)
And tying up the Best of the Year list from last week: Best Action goes to Black Panther, but there's a pretty solid French revenge flick on iTunes about a young female ass-kicker on a warpath. It's called Revenge.
The Biggest Letdown of the year was Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow, the Best Comedy was The Death of Stalin, and my nine-year-old kid says Ready Player One and Isle of Dogs were his two favourites.
I missed almost all Oscar-bait flicks but for me, no question, the Best Film of 2018 was Mandy, an LSD-fuelled biker-cult nightmare revenge flick that perfectly utilized every ion of Nicolas Cage, including his ability to duel with a chainsaw.
Happy New Year!