'Sequence Break' Review [2017 Fantasia Film Festival]

Were films to be scored solely on imagination, a product like Sequence Break would get top accolades. Its device of a sinister arcade machine as vehicle for descent into madness, and film’s apparent race against time to create more, more out there, more disgusting images time and again, make it a unique experience twice over. Individual scenes and images are often quite impressive in their execution, and a particular, twisted, unsettling mood runs throughout the film, unraveling reality before us and never letting us quite feel that we know where or when we are situated.

However, coherence – of concept, of story – is also important. It’s a big part of what allows for the creation of believablr worlds, for audiences to be transported to a new place and believe, for a time, in laws of a reality not quite their own. In this second regard, Sequence Break does not quite hit the mark.

This film sets Oz (Chase Williamson) the unenviable task of fitting his life together in advance of the closure of his current place of employment: a shop (owned by the jovial Jerry (Lyle Kanouse) that restores and sells vintage arcade machines. A budding romance with Tess (Fabianne Therese) both helps and hinders with this, though the trajectory seems upwards: Oz’s life is on fine track. Except for the machine, a dark and seductive arcade game of unknown origin that calls to Oz (and to a lesser degree Tess) and brings to him dark thoughts and images that threaten his unravelling. It also draws in a mysterious, threatening, and clearly unwell stranger (John Dinan), whose allegiance and motivation remain enshrouded for most of the film.

Here is where the film both makes and breaks itself. In delivering shocking, otherworldly images that compel disgust by all the senses, the film establishes the machine as a dark force that, should it be allowed, will destroy Oz and everything he holds dear. But the range of imagery it conjures for him does not fit together so neatly. It’s a mixed bag of tricks that holds everything from body horror, to grotesque slime, to sinister smiles from a woman drenched (yes) with black. There is no wholly unified aesthetic, no clear reason for some of the images other than to shock the audience and remind us that, yes, Oz is well on his way to his doom. Just the effort to make everything fit would make the world more believable, would establish the machine as a particular something, with a unique identity as an antagonizing, and not just the dispenser of the horror equivalent of party mix.

That’s not to say the film is poor. It’s a flick that has fun with the idea of our relationship to technology and the obstacles it erects to our professional and romantic ambitions. Some of the images that flash across the screen truly are creepy, disjointed though many may be, and the score is a tremendous throwback to the synthy 80s. The whole cast does a fine job – no real standouts, but the script doesn’t lend itself to showiness in the human domain anyway. Ironing out a few large plot holes would also have helped, but again, their existence doesn’t really matter too much.

The whole package makes for a decent film with a fair number of creepy visual treats, and which falls just shy of being a must-see for fans of techno-horror. Watch it on a lark, but don’t feel you need to go out of your way to see it.