After the flawed but ultimately very enjoyable send-up to classic John Carpenter with The Void, I was in the mood for more throwbacks to that glorious decade for horror. Looking around, first-time director Graham Skipper looks to offer up a tribute in the form of his film, Sequence Break. Having recently made its world premiere at the Chattanooga Film Festival, Sequence Break draws upon another 80s stalwart in David Cronenberg and mixes in a bit of romance along the way.
Arcade machine repairman Oz (Chase Williamson) keeps to himself much of the time, absorbed in his work at the shop. His routine takes a change one day when a girl named Tess (Fabianne Therese) drops by the shop and takes a fancy to Oz. In addition, a mysterious arcade board is delivered to the shop, which Oz takes upon himself to work on. But as Oz and Tess grow in their relationship, so do the strange things with the arcade game. It begins to cause changes in Oz as he plays it. Changes of the body and mind.
As many of you know, I’m a video game fanatic. So when the opening credits hit with that 80s synth sound, coupled with seeing all of those arcade cabinets (did I see “Road Blasters” in there?), it was a real treat. As a whole, the presentation, cinematography and the music are incredibly well done. The music is an obvious throwback to 80s ambient electronica, which fits in perfectly with the strange happenings that occur (love those creepy sound effects). Speaking of those happenings, just like in The Void, the use of practical effects is once again great to see in an independent film. There’s the predictable mix of practical and CGI, but the majority of the effects are done in-camera and done well. The film’s main callback is to Cronenberg’s Videodrome. The film can also be seen to draw inspiration from Joseph Sargent’s Nightmares, specifically the short, ‘The Bishop of Battle’, but it’s mostly the former. Circuit boards “breathe”, weird hallucinations involving hands, man-machine integration (including chips being inserted into foreheads), and a couple of gooey scenes involving Oz and the arcade cabinet “being intimate”. The film isn’t as explicit in its explorations of the flesh as Videodrome was, but what’s here does have that unsettling feeling for Sequence Break to call its own.
Aside from the gooey bits, the film’s main strength is the chemistry and performance between its two main leads. This is a love story, first and foremost. Williamson gets his role perfectly as the initially awkward Oz but grows just as his relationship with Tess develops. Likewise, Therese does an amazing job as Tess. There’s an obvious enthusiasm in her performance, and the interactions between her and Williamson feel real and relatable, as does their characters’ relationship. Lyle Kanouse also does well in his small role as Jerry, Oz’s boss, though the line about popping Oz “right in the starfish” garnered the same reaction from Oz as it did me (“Whoa, okay…”). In the crazy department, John Dinan nailed his role as the mysterious hobo, getting that borderline creepy/dangerous aspect down nicely.
My main problem with Sequence Break is its third act. We’re not exactly given the how or why the game does what it does, nor after the “explanation”, does it become clear (at least for me). We get a series of trippy sequences that offers clues as to the why, but it’s ultimately fragmented and makes little sense. It all comes back to the romance subplot, but even then, it feels like there’s something missing. The thing with Videodrome is that in all of its wacky and weirdness, the story was developed and made sense all the way through, even to the end. Perhaps I need to watch this “sequence” again to get what it’s all about.
As a firt-time effort, Sequence Break certainly shows that Graham Skipper has serious skills. Superbly shot with a great presentation, the film also benefits from some great acting. And who doesn’t love practical effects that mess with your head? While the story does trip itself up in the later goings, the main romance portion unfolds beautifully. Sequence Break is not the onslaught of body horror weirdness some may crave. Rather, it’s a love story that just so happens to have some weird moments to it. Much like relationships in real life.