Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Fantasia ’17: Sequence Break

There was a time when you had to deal with people if you wanted to play video games. Players would put their quarters up to claim the next game and everyone would patiently wait their turn, through common consent. These days, an arcade is a good place for a technician like Oz (short for Osgood, not Ozzie) to hide from the world. Yet, both a cute but neurotic woman and an evil mother board will find him in Graham Skipper’s Sequence Break (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Jerry’s arcade-slash-stand-up arcade game wholesale business is on its last legs, but one of their final customers happens to be Tess, who is really interested in Oz. Much to his surprise, he starts seeing her romantically. They will have a chance to spend a lot of time together while he minds the shop for Jerry. He assumes his good-natured boss has already left to visit family, but he has actually been murdered by a mysterious drifter who intentionally left behind a sinister game board. After Oz installs it in a compatible cabinet, he finds the game exerts a disturbing influence over players, both physically and emotionally.

Sequence Break is a nice example of an emerging loose ensemble of recognizable horror specialists and cult favorites, who almost constitute a throwback to the glory days of the repertory players featured Hammer and Amicus horror films. Skipper himself is better known for starring in nifty retro films like The Mind’s Eye and Beyond the Gates, which also co-starred Chase Williamson, who is terrific as the socially awkward Oz. He also develops some shockingly endearing chemistry with Fabianne Therese, with whom he previously co-starred in John Dies at the End. (She also appeared in Starry Eyes with Noah Segan, who was also in Camera Obscura with Williamson and Mind’s Eye with Skipper. Get the picture?)

Given its retro 1980s arcade aesthetic, Sequence Break’s budget constraints are almost a blessing. The arcade setting and the in-game graphics look absolutely spot-on. The small ensemble really works well together, most definitely also including Lyle Kanouse as old Jerry. The visual effects are basically in keeping with the retro eighties nostalgia, but the practical cables-coming-out-of-throats effects are sufficiently gory and gross.

Basically, Sequence is a lot like Electric Dreams with a strong element of body horror added. However, there is just no getting around how disappointing the ending is. Maybe you can argue it is part of the eighties homage, but it is still lame. Nonetheless, Skipper and the cast press so many nostalgic buttons, it is impossible to stay angry with the film. Recommended for fans of modern horror’s repertory players and the films and video games of the 1980s that inspired Skipper’s screenplay, Sequence Break screens tonight (7/18) and tomorrow (7/19) as part of this year’s Fantasia.