SEQUENCE BREAK (2017)
Director: Graham Skipper
Writer: Graham Skipper
Stars: Chase Williamson, Fabianne Therese, Lyle Kanouse, John Dinan, Audrey Wasilewski
Definition: “In computer and video games, sequence breaking is the act of performing actions or obtaining items out of the intended linear order, or of skipping “required” actions or items entirely. Sequence breaking is often used to beat a game unusually quickly, to beat it while only completing a few objectives or obtaining a few items, to obtain useful items early in the game, to make the game more difficult, or to help push a game as far as possible in some other way.”
About an hour after seeing writer/director GRAHAM SKIPPER’S new film, SEQUENCE BREAK, I was still trying to decide what the hell it was I had just watched. My first impression was that only deep-dish gamers and RPG fanatics would have any idea what the hell he’s trying to say with this film, a very odd blend of ALTERED STATES, THE MATRIX and David Cronenberg’s exercise in “techno-psycho” world-building, VIDEODROME. Now that more than a day has passed, I can take a step back and examine it more closely, and what I perceive now is a film that isn’t interested in telling you what you should think. What you take away from it is based entirely on what you bring to it, and since I’m kind of in a self-reinvention frame of mind these days, that’s what I saw: a very strange, very trippy voyage into exactly that.
CHASE WILLIAMSON (SiREN, JOHN DIES AT THE END, VICTOR CROWLEY) stars here as “Oz”, a millennial gamer savant who has a knack for reviving old arcade machines (we are talking from ‘back-in-the-day’ here.) He’s perfectly happy tinkering around his place of work – an arcade repair shop – rebuilding machines for his boss, Jerry, (LYLE KANOUSE, who also co-produces.)
Two things happen that upend Oz’s world in a profound way, to say the least: he meets cute with pretty gamer chick, Tess (FABIANNE THERESE of THE AGGRESSION SCALE, SOUTHBOUND and STARRY EYES), and runs afoul of a strange circuit board, planted in the shop by a very creepy Man (JOHN DINAN).
The romance between him and Tess is realistically, sweetly awkward. Which is good, because the other side of the story comes across as pure mind-fuckery, that you can either take as a metaphor for something, or for a bunch of metaphysical drivel that does nothing but bog the movie down. Again: it depends on what you bring to it.
Oz installs the strange circuit board into one of the machines when he finds it, and hypnotically drawn to its influence, begins to “play” the game…or is the game playing him? Right away, his perception of reality becomes totally skewed, and not in a fun way – like when you’re high. If he was, this could be considered one of the worst “trips” you could possibly go on; usually ending in vomiting. (And that eventually includes upchucking…circuitry?) Nevertheless, Oz’s obsession with the game only increases, eventually drawing in Tess as well.
Skipper, (also an actor who has appeared in TALES OF HALLOWEEN, CARNAGE PARK and DOWNRANGE), borrows Cronenberg’s squishy, bio-mechanical sexual metaphors to represent – what? The allure of staying in the same rut, never venturing away from what we know is comfortable? The struggle to strike out on one’s own and embrace what we know as our true destiny? I guess that could apply to the entire story as well. If I’m not really overthinking it.
The upshot here is that the few performances there are from the tiny cast are terrific. The chemistry between Williamson and Therese is at the core of the story, and it’s wonderful to watch. There’s nothing forced about their blossoming romance, which is key, since a single false note detected between them, would have deep-sixed the entire movie. When love becomes the reason for extracting yourself from some kind of psychological netherworld, it had better be genuine.
Kanouse is likable as the empathetic old gamer, Jerry – as likable as Dinan is creepily batshit crazy as the strange man, who seems to be goading Oz into using the eerie game machine as much as possible. His turn as the stranger seems pretty standard, at first, but towards the beginning of the film’s third act, things seem to go deeper with what appears to have been a stock character – could this man be an alternate version of Oz? That question seems to make no sense at all out of context, but once you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why I asked. AUDREY WASILEWSKI, (known primarily these days as a voice actor,) also gives an amiable performance as “Audrey”, a friendly bartender.
Though the special visual effects don’t seem to present Oz’s visions of “the game” as anything we’d recognize as coherent, NEAL JONAS and JASON RICHARD MILLER still created some cool sequences that may appeal to the gamer set that BREAK is aimed toward.
And the practical effects team did a commendable job as well, presenting their version of the wild visuals from VIDEODROME (originally done by masters RICK BAKER and STEVE JOHNSON) on a much lower budget.
The retro sound of VAN HUGHES’ electronic score contributes greatly to the ambiance – and often, the menace of the visuals, and continues the trend of soundtracks have carried through from films like IT FOLLOWS and STARRY EYES, to TV series like STRANGER THINGS.
Overall, SEQUENCE BREAK will not appeal to everyone, nor do I believe it was meant to. But for attempting to put a fresh spin on some pretty familiar material to most horror fans, I can in good conscience award it three-out-of-five stars.