Isolation and video games go hand-in-hand. Spending hours absorbed into a game with no company other than a joystick can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the detachment from the world can bring a sense of security and bliss, while the other can result in detaching from reality all together. Sequence Break explores both sides to this virtual coin, following a video arcade repairman who begins to lose himself to a mysterious arcade game while attempting to cope with changes in his life. From director Graham Skipper in his second feature length film, Sequence Break takes a look into the bleak mind of a struggling introvert through Cronenberg-ian glasses, complete with psychedelic editing and provocative body horror.
Sequence Break follows Oz (Chase Williamson of John Dies at the End), an awkward technician at an arcade game repair shop. After learning his shop is closing for good, he’s insecure about his future. When these rather significant changes become too much, Oz turns to his only solace: arcade games. After finding a motherboard left in a package at the shop, Oz plugs it in to an old arcade machine and this is where things start to get really weird. Luckily, weird movies are my jam.
There’s a lot to like about this movie, most notably the visual and audio styling. From the hypnotic opening credits, Sequence Break establishes it’s virtual aesthetic perfectly. The original music from actor-turned-composer Van Hughes sounds like it was taken straight from the early 80’s. The score is complimented by impeccable sound design, mimicking technological sounds bringing the mysterious arcade machine to life (literally). Do yourself a favor and watch this film with a good stereo system or pair of headphones to get the complete effect of being sucked into this film.
The film is as easy on the eyes as it is on the ears. A cool thing I noticed was the film was shot pretty simple when showing real life, no special camera moves or color palettes. But during the sequences of Oz playing the game or his hallucinations, the film switches to smooth shots intercut with distorted imagery and vibrant colors. Though there is not nearly enough of them, these provocative sequences are easily the best part of the film: ultra hypnotic, creepy, and dare I say…sexy?
“[The] provocative sequences are easily the best part of the film: ultra hypnotic, creepy, and dare I say…sexy?”
Not only does Sequence Break draw inspiration from the works of David Cronenberg, but there are definitely some shades of John Carpenter in here as well. Most notably the special effects. A majority of the film’s effects are practical, giving the film a film texture to it reminiscent of The Thing. As the game starts coming to life (referred to as ‘The White Eye’), its internal circuits become drenched is some sort of goo. While Oz gets sucked into the game, the buttons and joystick become malleable like melted taffy. You can almost feel it, as if you’d get sticky if you wiped your hand across the screen. The visuals and body horror elements are pretty mild for the most part, but I definitely had that pure ‘gross-out‘ feeling a few times throughout the film (and subsequently took a quick shower shortly after finishing).
Moving away from technical aspect to character stuff, this is where the film begins to dip a bit. Starting with our protagonist, Oz is a decent character powered by a great performance. The first 15 minutes or so, I thought Oz would be presented as a caricature of the awkward gamer. While he is to a degree, Williamson brought a authenticity to the role that made Oz believable. He also does a great job displaying a range of facial expressions, showing us the emotion of a character who doesn’t say much. Ultimately though, more could have been explored with his character to give him more depth. It’s never said explicitly, but Oz definitely shows some signs of depression. With mental health being such a prevalent topic and horror movies like The Babadook taking on the subject, I think Sequence Break could have been a great film to explore these elements as well.
The love interest Tess is all over the place. Fabianne Therese (Starry Eyes, Southbound) gives a solid performance, delivering some genuine moments and displaying great chemistry with Willimson’s Oz. But it was distracting how quick she fell for Oz and her motivation is never really addressed. Which could have been the point, due to Oz’s confusion as well, but I would have liked some closure in the finale to affirm the romance between the two. Another character in the film, simply known as The Man, comes and goes through out the film. Most times, you’re often left wondering his importance other than pushing the plot forward.
Speaking of plot, I love a mysterious plot and ambiguous ending as much as the next guy, but the finale of the film isn’t very satisfying. Especially after presenting an idea late in the movie, Sequence Break doesn’t exactly stick the landing. At a lean 80 minutes, the film could have used more time to let the characters and story breathe a bit more.
Though it may lack the depth of Cronenberg classic Videodrome, Sequence Break lives up to the comparison on multiple occasions. The result is a highly entertaining watch. The high level production on both the visual and audible sides, respectively, make up for a disjointed story. Graham Skipper shows promise in his second directorial effort, establishing aesthetic and mood of the film firmly. Anchored by sincere performance by Williamson, Sequence Break succeeds in being a character story about dealing with change. Just like our aloof protagonist, this film will entrance you with it’s erotic imagery and it’s darkly ambient score. If you’re looking for something stylistically appealing with a bit of a vile and trippy twist, Sequence Break is definitely worth plugging into. Catch it exclusively on Shudder right now!
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