Sequence BreakReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/21/17 02:27:49
SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Within the past year of seeing festival horror films, I've seen movies based on cursed VCR games, evil party games, and now a malevolent arcade game, and hopefully horror filmmakers are done with this particular bit of nostalgia-mining, because it doesn't seem to lead to an actual good story, no matter how creatively gross it sometimes gets. "Sequence Break" feels like something that should absolutely work for me, but there's just not much to it.That aimlessness is reflected in Oz (Chase Williamson), who has been working as a technician repairing old video game machines for a small local business for the last few years, too intent on his work when Tess (Fabianne Therese) comes through, ostensibly to find a gift for her brother, but he meets and clicks with her at a bar later, after boss Jerry (Lyle Kanouse) has dropped the bad news that they'll be closing in a few weeks, after he gets back from a family thing upstate. He doesn't make it, as a mysterious homeless-looking man (John Dinan) kills him after breaking in, somehow connected with the strange circuit board that Oz finds in an unmarked envelope - one that makes for a hypnotic (but nausea-and-nightmare-inducing) game when Oz installs it in an unused cabinet.
Sequence Break is the sort of horror story built around the romantic comedy of the shy guy meeting the girl that's a cool, perfect match but having to tear himself away from whatever keeps him from engaging, and if you cast well, that goes a long way toward keeping the audience happy when a lot of the movie is sort of killing time before moving things along. Writer/director Graham Skipper actually goes with a proven pairing, as Chase Williamson and Fabianne Therese also met cute in John Dies at the End, and it certainly provides a solid foundation to work with - it's genuinely fun to watch them play off each other, and Williamson in particular comes off as a believably introverted guy who nevertheless isn't a one-note guy trivia machine.
Unfortunately, it also has very little beyond a pair of nice characters - they make vague comments about making something of their own rather than just repairing, but there's not much turmoil to their relationship for the horror material to reflect. Skipper may be onto something with a story about Oz tending to be pulled into games or even obsessed, but the mechanics of it is terribly slack. There may be some truth to how some things just draw one's obsession without a whole lot of obvious reasoning, but "Oz keeps coming back to the machine that makes him sick and mean just because" is not exactly great drama, and none of the pieces actually fit together even though long-time horror fans can easily guess at the shape they're supposed to make. Nothing particularly motivates anything in the plot and it's not a clever or tight enough loop to work as its own justification.
Still, Skipper and his effects crew led by Josh & Sierra Russell have good images in their head, starting with the stark black cabinet in the middle of the workshop to the game itself, a vector-style shooter that incorporates mystic-seeming patterns. The "white eye" that the strange man raves about is a simple retro visual that will work well for viewers of a certain age, as the dot at the center of a recently-deactivated CRT holds indefinitely rather than fades away And, most of all, the Russells come up with some nice, squishy sex stuff for the arcade cabinet to manifest, with simple icks becoming grotesquely elaborate. It's often just "I can make this sexual like old-school Cronenberg" more an actual statement or metaphor, but it's hard not to dig the look of things when the movie gets full-on trippy toward the end.There's a lot of visually fun stuff throughout, and if you're going to do this sort of thing, it's very nice to have Williamson and Therese around to make the less gross parts move slowly. That still makes "Sequence Break" more of an outline of a movie than a complete film, striking images and friendly protagonists looking for a solid connection.
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