18th Jul2017

Fantasia 2017: ‘Sequence Break’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Chase Williamson, Lyle Kanouse, Fabianne Therese, Audrey Wasilewski, Johnny Dinan | Written and Directed by Graham Skipper

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Oz (Williamson) is an antisocial loner who only finds solace in his love for ’80s arcade games, refurbishing and restoring them to their former glory. That is, until he meets Tess (Therese). The two quickly become romantically entwined, but their budding romance is slowly threatened by a mysterious game that seems to be drawing the two deeper and deeper into its void of slime and Cronenbergian horror. Amid the strange occurrences, a cryptic vagabond also appears, lurking around the arcade workshop at night. The dilapidated madman shouts about doom and destruction as the couple cling to the remnants of their normal lives. Oz soon finds himself facing off against the eight-bit portal to the cosmos, to both save himself and his newfound love.

Having already appeared in Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye (easily one of the best genre films of 2015) for director Joe Begos, Graham Skipper continues his journey into the films of the 80s – this time behind the camera rather than in front – with Sequence Break, a film that does for the videogame generation what Videodrome did for tapeheads in the 80s. Best of all it reunites the ever-underrated Chase Williamson with actress Fabianne Therese, both of whom previously starred together in the awesome Don Coscarelli opus John Dies at the End (another personal favourite of mine).

And Sequence Break shares a lot in common with John Dies… Both films play with the characters AND the audiences perception of reality, offering a fractured word view and both feeling, for the most part, rather bleak. However there’s also a beautiful central core to Sequence Break‘s story, a moral if you will, that breaks through the bleakness and is laid out in one perfect sentence from Tess: “look between the ones and zeros” – look beyond you obsession, beyond your TV screen, beyond your comfort zone; go out and explore new things, new ideas. LIVE godammit. Now that’s not a new idea, in fact it was a core theme of a LOT of 80s movies (like The Goonies for example) but it’s something that has not been explored as much in the intervening years.

Once again the John Carpenter influences come into play – particularly the electronic soundtrack which, whilst reflecting the video game aspect of the film, also has the ominous edge that Carpenter brings to his compositions. However this time round, Skipper – much like with The Mind’s Eye – looks more to the work of David Cronenberg and other genre films of the 80s for his filmic inspiration. Especially with Sequence Break‘s reliance on gooey, often biomechanical practical effects – something the was prevalent not only in Cronenberg’s work, but also films like Hellraiser; which I was reminded of during one particular gaming sequence, as our hero Oz is entwined with cables whilst playing the game.

Visually Sequence Break looks amazing, from the ominous Tron-like way Skipper portrays the arcade games Oz lives with and repairs – especially the killer cab that he obsesses over – to the gooey, overtly sexual nature of the, lets just say, “malleable” arcade controls and the amazing biomechanical way in which man and machine combine, to THAT Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque effect sequence; it’s safe to say Skipper and co. have poured their heart and souls into making the effects not only practical but also real. Real in the sense that there’s never a point you think “hold on that looks fake” or “that’s not possible”. The sheer craftsmanship that has gone into each and every effect – big and small – really heightens the believability of a story that, in reality, is totally unbelievable.

I’m not going to lie, I’m a huge fan of the work Graham Skipper and Joe Begos have produced together, which makes me the perfect audience for Skipper’s directorial debut; but even I was not expecting something so perfect, so perfectly horrifying and so… 80s. At once homaging films that have come before, yet never parodying them, Sequence Break is, for me, a masterpiece.

***** 5/5

Videodrome for the gaming generation, Sequence Break screens at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 18th, with a repeat screening on July 19th.

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