Oz (Chase Williamson) is a quiet nerd who loves his job as a technician in a video arcade. Essentially, he's responsible for repairing and restoring old arcade games - and is working on a particularly mysterious acquisition one afternoon when his kindly boss Jerry (Lyle Kanouse) shows pretty customer Tess (Fabianne Therese) around the store. Oz is so absorbed in his work that he doesn't even notice her beauty.
He does, however, sit up and pay attention later that evening when Jerry tells him that business is bad and the arcade will have to shut in a month's time. Jerry promises to give his loyal employee fifty percent of whatever he sells his business for, and advises Oz to go out and get drunk while the bad news sinks in.
Oz dutifully takes himself to his local bar and begins drowning his sorrows. Tess appears beside him at the bar and immediately recognises him from earlier; a conversation strikes up, and she suggests they meet for lunch one day soon. Finding Tess to be attractive, witty and quirky, Oz soon accepts her invitation.
In the meantime, Jerry is working after hours alone in the arcade when he's visited by a curious figure (John Dinan). Things don't end well for Jerry and he's not seen again - though Oz is unconcerned as the last thing his boss told him was that he had to go away on business for a fortnight, and Oz was in charge of the store.
Oz meets with Tess for lunch a few days later and she is everything he could hope for: smart, pretty, funny, obsessed with video games and even has an elaborate plan in place, should she ever get caught short in a zombie apocalypse. This may be the coolest geek screen coupling since TRUE ROMANCE brought Alabama into Clarence's life.
There's just one problem. That pesky arcade console which Oz was toiling on at the film's start. There's something ominous about it which draws people towards it. The first time Oz attempts to play it, he suffers from violent hallucinations of liquidised flesh and dissolving limbs, before vomiting. When Tess shows an interest in plugging the machine in and playing it herself, he warns her away.
But how long can she - or he, for that matter - resist the allure of this enigmatic game just waiting to be played? Can Oz crack the sequence break (technical jargon which is explained in the movie) required to beat the game? And what does the mystery man (who looks like he's a cousin of HOME ALONE'S Marv), who previously delivered a sour fate to Jerry, have to do with all of this?
As Oz becomes more and more drawn towards the mystery machine, the lines between reality and fantasy become increasingly blurred. Flowery dialogue like "On the other side, there's time enough for it all ... because there is no time ... and in the infinite, all things are no just possible ... they're inevitable" adds to the surrealism.
SEQUENCE BREAK is a hugely ambitious low budget effort from writer-director Graham Skipper. Merging elements of sci-fi, romance, drama, horror and surrealist cinema, it's not going to be an easy sell - which in itself is something I admire. While watching, titles that sprang to mind included fare such as VIDEODROME, JACOB'S LADDER, ALTERED STATES and BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW. While SEQUENCE BREAK isn't necessarily a close resemblance to any of these, it's certainly pitched in that same dark marriage of bleak reality and warped alternate perspective with which each film is inflected. While we're at it, we may as well nod towards J-Horror treats such as RING and ONE MISSED CALL too, where inanimate electrical devices were also used as sources of terror.
And, to its credit, SEQUENCE BREAK is largely successful in its efforts. The cast are uniformly strong; the leads create a likeable, believable romance which helps us root for their well-being as the ante gradually ups; Skipper's pace is relaxed in an assured way, allowing for atmosphere to ooze from almost every scene; the balance of retro-styling (the video arcade machines, dated worktop computer monitors, Van Hughes's beautiful 80s-esque synth score a la Howard Shore) and impressively creative modern FX work is established and maintained really well.
Brian Sowell's cinematography, DeAnne Millais's production design and Aaron Francis's art direction also deserve special mentions for their combined efforts at triumphing over budgetary restrictions. A minimalistic visual style just adds to the nightmarish tone as events escalate, stark sets being swathed in black as psychedelic rushes of colour paint over character's faces to create simple but striking images.
The arty approach to genre fare may alienate some viewers, as may the strange route this film takes: things get weirder and weirder, before pulling in for a not-too-unexpected time-loop coda. But to dismiss it would be to miss out on an intriguing film which strives to be a little more than your run-of-the-mill sci-fi/horror hybrid.
The film is being released on UK DVD by Matchbox films. We were sent an online screener for review purposes.
Presented uncut and in its original 2.35:1 ratio (16x9 enhanced), SEQUENCE BREAK benefitted from a strong visual representation. Colours were suitably muted during the more austere moments, while they became vibrant for the film's many outlandish scenes of surreal body horror. Images were sharp and clean throughout with no compression noise to speak of.
Likewise, the English 2.0 audio track on offer was clean and clear throughout.
Recommended for Cronenberg fans and adventurous fans of sci-fi/horror.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Matchbox films|