SEQUENCE BREAK (2017) Review, Fantasia 2017

Sequence Break Movie Review

A reclusive video arcade repair technician (Chase Williamson) experiences bizarre biomechanical mutations and Cronenbergian hallucinations when a mysterious new arcade machine appears in his shop. Reality itself threatens to fracture as he works to solve its mystery and the new chaos that has entered his life.

This film is Graham Skipper’s baby. He wrote it, directed it, produced it… and to make a long story short, did a smashing job in all three departments. This is his first feature film as director, though he did make a film called “Space Clown” that appears to have never been released, and he was involved in the production of “The Mind’s Eye” (2015) which received plenty of love. Skipper is primarily known as an actor, appearing recent horror hits “Tales of Halloween” (2015) and “Beyond the Gates” (2016).

Lead actor Chase Williamson has shared a screen with Skipper on a couple of occasions, most recently the aforementioned “Beyond the Gates”. Presumably, discussion of “Sequence Break” began on that film’s set. Supporting actress Fabianne Therese will be familiar from the outstanding “Starry Eyes” (2014) and coincidentally (or not) co-starred with Williamson in Don Coscarelli’s underrated gem “John Dies at the End” (2012). The world of horror really is a small world.

Shockingly, when one tries to think about horror films revolving around video games, or more specifically arcade games, almost nothing comes to mind despite decades of gaming being part of pop culture. There was the Bishop of Battle segment of “Nightmares” (1983) and the somewhat forgotten “Brainscan” (1994). Beyond that, it all becomes rather hazy.

Skipper’s story grew out of two seeds. One was the influence of David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” (1983), which is fairly evident. Without ever ripping off the classic film or getting so close that the idea becomes derivative, there are some effects that are obviously a nod to Cronenberg. Though it may be blasphemy to say so, the effects at times may even go beyond Cronenberg. The black tar, the melting plastic, the melding of humanity and machine… no one could possibly say a bad word about the practical effects crew, Josh and Sierra Russell of Russell FX.

The other, more obscure, influence is the urban legend of the Polybius arcade game. Gaining traction around 1998, this story claims that there was a machine created by the government circa 1981 that was placed in certain public spaces and caused horrible reactions in its players. So-called “men in black” would periodically check in on the game to see what data they could gather. While not the most common legend, the parallel between Polybius and “Sequence Break” is pretty strong once one is familiar. Well played, Graham Skipper, in utilizing this mythic source.

Although the effects are incredible, we would be foolish to ignore the sound design. As of late, artists like Disasterpiece have done a fine job of bringing a retro computerized feel to their music, sort of a fake 1980s synth. Composer Van Hughes blows everyone away. This is his first score (aside from that “Space Clown” film no one knows about), working primarily as an actor. Mr. Hughes, you are a natural with the layering and richness of sounds. Please keep at it, as more films need to sound like this.

One could argue that the plot is hard to follow at times, but this is clearly intentional and is more than made up for with the mind-blowing makeup effects. “Sequence Break” screens July 18, 2017 at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Arguably, it may be one of the festival’s ten best films.

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