This is a review of the Region 2 (UK) DVD of the Sci-Fi/Horror/Thriller film “Sequence Break” , Written and Directed by Graham Skipper. Sequence Break is a Cronenberg inspired, Sci-Fi/Body Horror film that centers around Oz (played by Chase Williamson from Siren and The Guest), a loner arcade game technician who experiences hallucinations and a bizarre transmutation after discovering a motherboard that connects to a previously untried machine in his shop. His fast developing relationship with Tess (Fabianne Therese from The Aggression Scale) further complicates matters as Oz finds himself coming to a shocking self-realization. The film also stars Lyle Kanouse (Hesher), John Dinan and Audrey Wasilewski (TV’s Big Love).
Sequence Break is just Skipper’s second feature-length film, and it’s certainly an ambitious one at that. Cronenberg fans have quite a grasp on the body horror sub-genre, seeing as a sizeable chunk of his early work was all about that notion. Films like “Shivers” and “Videodrome”, just to name a couple. Sequence Break is bound to draw comparisons to those types of films, and in particular the latter. Personally I think David made better films than those, such as “Naked Lunch”, “Spider” and of course perhaps the most iconic of body horror films, “The Fly”. Anyways.. onto Skipper’s independent venture. Having come from an acting background, I think he knows what works well for whatever the allocated time and budget. Sequence Break only consists of a handful of characters and very few locations, but it’s never boring. Despite treading over some familiar ground, Graham’s characters convey some relevant commentary and an awareness of the evolution of technology, most evident these days in modern film and gaming. Arcades are now virtually non-existent, video rental shops went bust and even collectors are few and far between. Everything’s sort of just floating around in the stratosphere of digital streaming and downloading, “it’s a whoozy it’s a whazzy”, it’s a little sad. There’s a cool “Space Invaders” like backdrop to the title credit sequence (a tip of the hat to old school gamers), and I particularly like the way the arcade workshop lights up with the multi-faceted lighting setup Oz has rigged. Skipper grounds Sequence Break with simple but well executed visuals and employs the use of practical fx wherever possible. There’s a lot of gooey slime and black sludge that once again calls to mind The Fly.
Cinematographer, Brian Sowell (Beyond The Gates) produces some nice clean visuals and all the framing looks pretty good. Sowell comes with a lot of experience, having been an assistant camera operator for over a decade. The audio track appears to utilize almost all natural sound, which is rare for an independent film. The original score by Van Hughes is probably the films strongest creative aspect. 80’s synth fans are going to love it. It’s super slick and there’s warping bass to drive the films other worldly feel. There’s a section of music that reminded me of some of Brad Fiedel’s synth work on James Cameron’s iconic film, “The Terminator”. The likeable characters, and in turn the actors performances, make Sequence Break as good as it is. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Williamson has proven himself astute in similar terrain, with lead roles in “John Dies At The End” and “Beyond The Gates”. Chase even bears somewhat of a resemblance to Skipper (the two having already worked on the latter), so it was nice to see him cast here. Therese, the girl next door type, is another handy inclusion. I remember seeing her back in Steven C. Miller’s “The Aggression Scale” (a sort of violent Home Alone for adults). The natural chemistry between Chase and Fabianne should come as no surprise, with the two both a part of John Dies At The End. Kudos go to Graham for being one of the first writers to actually create a likeable “boss”. Jerry (Kanouse) owns the workshop but treats Oz like an equal, acknowledging his value to the business. He even offers to split the sale money with him and urges him to unwind a little in order to find what makes him happy. Dinan rounds out the key cast. His mysterious vagabond role is a serviceable one, but the exposition around his character was a little lacking.
Sequence Break has a higher than expected production value for a film entering science fiction domain, but it’s not all perfect. The neon reds used to light the bar sequences with Oz and Tess are quite fiery and a bit too harsh. Following that, there’s a scene with Oz either back at the workshop or in his house (I couldn’t decipher which) that’s virtually shot in total darkness. I’m not sure if Skipper was attempting to convey that Oz couldn’t pay his utility bill, because if it was the workshop surely there’d be a light and he’d just turn it on? For an 80 minute film, the pacing does still lag somewhat. A tighter edit could’ve been achieved by cutting the time-lapse sequence (which only aims to show more time spent between Oz and Tess) and perhaps even a scene or two where Oz revisits the game, because it’s not like there’s a discernible escalation in events with every return. The consensus surrounding Sequence Break is that it’s guilty of coming across as too vague in regard to most of its finer details, and I’d concur. I have no shame in admitting that I didn’t fully understand it, and well, maybe we’re not supposed to. There’s no doubt something primal or animalistic is going on at Oz’s core, and that manifests itself through images of sexual obscurity and an all out cerebral vortex as the film nears its climax. I was relieved to see Oz finally ask questions of “The Man”, though it’s a case of too little too late by the time that eventuated. I think he should have been investigating much earlier in the film. What had Oz fixated on the game? What was it about the white eye that drew him in? Or was it just a way of depicting his inability to get out of his own head and pursue his dream? Those are the questions one is likely to have at the conclusion of Sequence Break. Why did the game appear to have a sexual drawcard? And was that symbolic of Tess and her place in Oz’s life? The only detail I got thinking about was the double representation of Oz conceivably meaning that his head and his heart were caught between two worlds. The questions raised are at least interesting ones, though I can’t help but feel like the frustration of not knowing might tip the scales in the wrong direction.
I’ve been looking forward to checking out Sequence Break for a while and it definitely feels like a love letter to Cronenberg, even American Science Fiction author, H.P Lovecraft. There’s the technological aspect evident in “Videodrome” and the sexualized euphoria experienced by characters in something like “Existenz”, it’s a weird combination that doesn’t completely compute. I do, however, think it’s quite an ambitious project with solid cinematography, good sound design and a stylish synth pumping soundtrack. All the performances are consistent and the combination of Williamson and Therese makes for organic and enjoyable viewing. The CG is admirable considering this is a low-budget undertaking, and the practical fx are a welcomed addition. There’s a couple of minor aesthetic choices I didn’t go in for and the edit could’ve been trimmed in a few places. In the end I had a lot of questions and I didn’t entirely grasp all the conceptual notions at play, and I’m not sure many will. Still, there’s enough here for me to get behind Skipper’s, Sequence Break and I can certainly recommend this to fans of Cronenberg and others like Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). This one is now available to stream through Shudder and you can purchase the DVD from Amazon and other online outlets. Feel free to check out the trailer below!
My rating for “Sequence Break” is 6.5/10