“Don’t just look into the void. Let the void look into you”. As one of the more memorable lines from Graham Skipper’s SEQUENCE BREAK, it feels a bit ironic that Graham seems to have fallen into the same trap as his main protagonist, OZ (Chase Williamson)....
...You see, Sequence Break is a complicated film, full of intriguing ideas and a Cronenbergian style that would be a welcome relief from the constant barrage of sequels and remakes that Hollywood seems intent on making us suffer through, if not for one crippling factor…none of these ideas feel fully fleshed out. Which is a damn shame, because the cast and crew clearly set out to make something intended to be unique.
Best known for his roles in Almost Human and Beyond the Gates, writer/director Graham Skipper starts his film off by introducing us to Oz, an introverted arcade technician/gamer who has dedicated his life to keeping the arcade shop he works at up and running, rather than setting out to achieve anything truly meaningful. He’s so much in his shell that when his boss, Jerry (Lyle Kanouse), introduces him to a fun, quirky gamer girl named Tess (Fabianne Therese), Oz hardly seems to notice her. It’s only when Jerry later informs Oz that he’s closing down the shop that Oz realizes he needs to do something with his life. Soon, he meets Tess again, forming an almost literally love at first sight type of bond, which then becomes threatened after Oz becomes obsessed with a mysterious arcade game that arrives at the shop. This sets off what can only be described as a psycho-sexual love triangle between man, woman, and machine. Sounds great, right? Sadly, this is where the film begins to fall apart for me.
See, Oz is presented to us as a character who needs to accomplish something. He wants to create the greatest game ever made. So, while it would make sense if Oz was going mad by locking himself up in his work, it’s a little less appealing that this scenario involves a man (John Dinan) who looks like a coked-out version of the homeless guy from Hellraiser, delivering the game and simply telling Oz to crack the code. Budget really hurts the film, because while I can accept Oz indulging the manic figure, even I have a difficult time stretching my imagination when I see that the game Oz is becoming obsessed over looks like Space Invaders, minus the invaders and substituted with a giant orb that you just fly your ship around. It’s that uninteresting. But I don’t blame anyone. You do with the budget what you can. Though it certainly doesn’t help. Not to mention, the relationship between Oz and Tess, while cute, feels disingenuous. At this point in the film, they’ve known each other for what has to be only a couple of weeks, maybe less, yet you have Tess saying things like “this isn’t you”. Sorry, but I’ve lived with my fiancé for seven years, and there are STILL things I don’t know about her, and somehow, I doubt she would’ve stayed with me if, in the first couple weeks of dating, I kept ignoring her or getting weird over a less than appealing video game. Despite what Disney films have tried to tell me, that love at first sight stuff doesn’t work for me. Sorry not sorry, Walt.
The relationship isn’t the only part of the story lacking depth. The film fails to provide much substance behind what’s going on, PERIOD. Again, there’s an obvious love for Cronenberg’s work on display, yet Cronenberg was a true master of body horror and techno fear, whereas Sequence Break feels like a mish-mash of the sort of concepts Cronenberg often delved in, without fully exploring any of them. In The Fly, Jeff Goldblum had a reason to obsesses over his teleporter. It was HIS, and it was going to be his mark on the world. The body horror of the film was organic to the plot. Oz is simply hypnotized by the game, and the small bits of body horror that do occur happen only in visions and “dreams”. In Videodrome, it makes sense that James Woods begins experiencing strange, sexual phenomena with his television set. To him, TV IS sex, its what he lusts after. At no point in Sequence Break do we get a similar vibe from Oz over arcade games, so when this new game causes the machine to soften and ooze white goop, allowing Oz to, er, button mash a little too enthusiastically, it looks cool, but it lacks real substance and feels more like an imitation of Cronenberg rather than a tribute to him because there isn’t much of a REASON behind it, and this idea of sex with an arcade machine never returns later.
Despite all of this, the film isn’t ALL bad. The cast is believable, and though the relationship between Chase Williamson and Fabianne Therese isn’t all that realistic, the chemistry between them has an “awe, they’re cute” feel to it. For a Cronenbergian film, there aren’t a lot of special effects on display, but those that do appear pulsate with ooey gooey life thanks to Josh and Sierra Russell squeezing every last penny the budget allows onto screen, including one phenomenal effect towards the end involving a melting skull. The music by Van Hughes also does its best to transport us to an 80s esque techno-horror era and was honestly my favorite part of the flick. Even if the film doesn’t work overall, everyone involved shows a deep love for these kinds of movies.
I want to be clear, I’m not trying to hate on the film or insult Graham Skipper. There is a real attempt here to make something intelligent that takes concepts from the 80s and introduces them into a modern theme of fear over our obsessive nature with technology. But from the never explained phenomena of the game to the utterly ridiculous (and predictable) “twist” ending, ideas run a little too rampant, a great example of why well known writers like Stephen King advocate for keeping story ideas “simple”. While I admire the effort, Skipper attempts too much with too little, ultimately causing the film to lack any true focus, which makes the 80-minute runtime feel a lot longer than it should. Other filmmakers should take notice: Don’t just look into the work of Cronenberg, let the work of Cronenberg look into you. Or through you. You know what I mean.
By Matt Konopka