Interactive cinema has existed since the 1967 Czech film Kinoautomat, but remains niche, despite a brief flare-up of interest around Charlie Brooker’s choose-your-own-adventure Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch. British director Paul Raschid – ambitiously for a 30-year-old – specialises in tending these mind-boggling gardens of forking paths. His latest The Gallery is a trenchant and thoughtful post-Brexit treatise that can be played on PCs and consoles, but it’s also doing the rounds in cinemas, where the group experience – including voting by glowstick – could work something like a referendum on modern Britain, given the film’s state-of-the-nation bent.
The Gallery has two separate but symmetrical timelines in 1981 and 2021. Plus ça change: both spotlight a reeling and fractured Britain in which the Argyle Manor gallery, about to put on a portrait exhibition, becomes a microcosm for their respective social tensions. In the 1981 timeline, Morgan (Anna Popplewell), a young gallerist in a twinset, is taken hostage by bitter northern painter and would-be revolutionary Dorian (George Blagden). In 2021, Popplewell and Blagden switch roles, but the dilemma is the same: cede to the hostage-taker’s demands to hand over a prize portrait (of Thatcher in the first timeline; of a social-media influencer in the second), or get “Jackson Pollocked” by the bomb under their chair.
A single playthrough typically takes just over an hour, with 18 different endings over the two halves. My 1981 run ends in bloody carnage for Morgan and several other characters; realising that the denouement depends largely on your captor’s attitude towards you, I play it obsequiously in 2021, telling Dorian what she wants to hear. Unexpectedly, it still ends in tears, showing how Raschid has invested effort into his causality, capably differentiating the two periods with shifts in set-dressing, theme and language. The hangover from Britain’s winter of discontent in 1981, a reckoning with social media and art-world commodification in 2021; and drab sandwiches for summer first time round, chow mein the next.
The need to neatly segment the story probably explains its didactic tendency, as Raschid – via Dorian – tries to pack in conclusions about society and art. And the film’s basic binary nature ushers us toward moralistic choices rather than Bandersnatch’s more nuanced playfulness. But Raschid does flirt at one point with fluidity in the person of strutting artist Nicky (played by transgender actor Rebecca Root), an unclassifiable element that his narrative and structure only superficially accommodates. With Raschid’s penchant for social inquiry, that could provide an anarchic avenue for further experimentation.