Kimmy vs the Reverend lets the audience make the tough choices. Credit: Netflix

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs the Reverend, an interactive, feature-length spin-off from the Netflix TV show, came out this month, joining a growing trend of online-only movies encouraging audiences to participate in the events on screen. 

The Tina Fey-produced film has received impressive feedback since it was posted on Wednesday May 13, gaining a certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with a score of 93% from critics on the site. After 2018’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch also won over audiences and became a viral hit on social media, film enthusiasts are now suggesting that these interactive movies could become increasingly prominent in the world of online entertainment. 

Ella Farnsworth, film critic for Nottingham Trent University’s Platform Magazine, claims that this type of film can add an extra layer of enjoyment for audiences, saying, “These forms of media allow you to choose what happens to each character and influence the story, no matter how horribly sadistic your final choices may be. The entire experience is reminiscent of virtual reality, and is an exciting and fantastic addition to the entertainment world.

“Never had I thought I would be able to control the story in such a way. And whilst it won’t ever replace classic entertainment, it is fascinating and something I’d love to see more of.”

Yet Natasha Alvar, film editor at online entertainment website Cultured Vultures, disagrees, arguing that elements of interactivity could undermine the quality of filmmaking. “It makes movies rather cookie-cutter, where the filmmaker’s vision and artistry is lost,” she says. 

“Good films linger, using settings and characters to great effect. If I control the character, then it doesn’t feel like they exist. The meta component of interactive films breaks any immersion. The fourth wall must stay up if I am to feel invested.

“Interactive movies are definitely something more movie studios will invest in, but it is a fad that can never come close to the impact of true cinema.”

With Netflix alone hosting dozens of interactive adventures on its site, this is a fad that doesn’t seem to be disappearing any time soon. Whether it’s joining Bear Grylls on a survival mission in the woods or helping Captain Underpants save his friends from the evil principal Benny Krupp, streaming platforms will increasingly encourage audiences to decide stories for themselves. 

So far Netflix have followed through on a promise made by their vice president of product, Todd Yellin, last year, who revealed that Netflix were “doubling down” on interactive storytelling across all genres, and after the critical success of Kimmy vs the Reverend audiences can expect more of these movies to be released on the platform soon. 

Interactive films may not be for everyone, but they are definitely here to stay.