Silently I moved through the crowds in attendance at the Fright Fest, armed with my ticket, a hip flask full of spirits and an overpriced carton of popped corn drenched in sugar. My target, the screen which would be my portal into a film that promised to be Videodrome meets Altered States built around the monolithic cabinets of video games past. Written and directed by Graham Skipper who I remembered had appeared in last year’s Horror Board-game film ‘Beyond the Gates’, I’d expected an understanding for the core subject matter, especially considering the name itself is derived from a gamer practice of forcing the game to play outside of its programmed series of events by using some bug or glitch.
Sequence Break revolves around Osgood (Chase Williamson), the sort of man who’s out of time with the rest of the world. He repairs old Arcade machines, but at heart wants to make his own games. He enjoys his job as it sort of means he is doing what he wants without actually achieving much. But like so often in these sort of narratives the shop is failing in an era where meeting friends in some neon lit den of flashing pixels and vectors has fallen from favour. Yet even though he has little more than a month to go before the owner Jerry (Lyle Kanouse) sells up and moves to pastures greener, Oz is given the proverbial bone and meets Tess (Fabianne Therese), a writer by night with blood the colour of geek, who seems to really like him for some reason. As this happens a mysterious tramp appears carrying with him a circuit board for a Polybius inspired space shooter that draws Oz into fits of nightmares and obsession.
I’ll admit, when it claimed that it was like Videodrome I was intrigued. Videodrome is one of my favourite films and sits comfortably in my top 10 films to take with me in the event of an apocalypse. So me being me, I had to see it, even at the exclusion of something better. Though honestly I wish I hadn’t. It’s not a terrible film, but neither can I say it was particularly good either. It claims to be body horror with it’s connection to David Cronenburg’s seminal examination of society’s decadence and dependence on the cathode ray tube and desensitisation to the ever more disturbing images it beams into our minds. But that, it seemed to never truly deliver either visually or thematically. Nor does it feel akin to Ken Russell’s examination of states of mind, perception and self that was present in Altered States. It feels like it, like Jerry’s Arcade Depot, to be floundering in the sea of ichor it used so judiciously with no clear avenue of escape. It tries, but never seems to pull it off, with flashes of possible outcomes and foreshadowing about as subtle as a lead brick wrapped in elephant crap. Not to mention the techno-sexual moments between Oz and the machine, while promising fall short of actually leaving any sort of lasting impression.
The characters too lacked dimension, Oz sort of seems like he’s in some pot fuelled daze and Tess likes to drop geek references everywhere but since the pathos is so skewed we never really understand how their relationship has developed, one minute they’re chatting, next we’re bombarded with geek jokes in some vague attempt at bonding from Tess while Oz seems confused and incapable of stringing together a coherent thought, the next they’re in bed. Jerry comes out as some throw away character that might have given something more but as soon as he is introduced he’s gone and the Stranger sort of just stands around and shouts at key moments. There is this sense that none of the character’s existences are at all that important, out of the whole film there is only one scene where, for the briefest of moments you actually are presented by a believable impression of Oz and Tess and their relationship. Where they play some none disclosed table arcade machine and you actually have a dynamic, a rapport. Like a couple still in their honeymoon phase. But this was all too fleeting as the game further dug its claws into Oz’s mind.
Overall, as I said earlier this wasn’t a terrible film, namely because I could sit through it, but honestly what potential it had was never really used to its fullest. I hope that from this Graham Skipper learns that while he has the ability to make a film he just lacks the skill to mould it into something both engaging and memorable. I hope that his next offering to the altar of the audience shows that he has grown in terms of his writing and pathos.
Written by Gareth Beverstock