09 April 2017

At the movies: SEQUENCE BREAK.

Kinky, ghoulish, serrated, trippy as fuck, and kind of sweet, Sequence Break is yet another in 2017’s remarkable array of debut features. Imagine the narrative mechanics of The Last Starfighter, but told with the visceral grace of one of David Lynch’s psychogenic fugues.

You wouldn’t think a film this expert in the particulars of nonconsensual melting would elicit such an emotional catharsis, but here we are... Written and directed by Graham Skipper, whom you may know as the moral center of the Begoverse, or from his leading turn in last year’s haunted VHS board game epic Beyond The Gates, Sequence Break is like something distilled from the hippocampus (the part of the brain where nightmares and fever dreams live). It’s rooted in situations that even those poor souls with no affection for classic arcade games can relate to- in a way, the film’s transformative horror/hope could insinuate itself into a near infinite number of situations with creative people and the fields in which they hone their craft.

But arcade tech places us in a visual space where we understand the capabilities of The Now and The Then. And then it takes us further. Into The Beyond, which is a phrase I use both in its literal sense, completing the triplet, and as a shout-out to Lucio Fulci’s 1981 apocalypse of mortified flesh and inescapable dread. Skipper knows his shit when it comes to horror and SciFi, and he never goes for ‘spot the reference’ jukeboxery. But he’s also aiming wider than one might expect- Sequence Break is also one of the best weirdo romances since The Lobster, and it’s not inconceivable that we might see its title popping up as dating app profile slang in the not too distant future.

Oz (Chase Williamson, who could have stopped making movies after John Dies At the End and would still be a damn treasure) is the guy who fixes arcade games. It’s neither social worker nor 24-hour veterinarian, but it’s a job that is necessary. He’s a little weird, and routine-based, but that’s how the world is when you’re not working the traditional 9-to-5. He may well never meet the folk he brings joy to a quarter at a time, but he’s doing honest work that’s nothing to be ashamed about. And unfortunately, in a situation that’s becoming all too familiar to folk who have those small-scale artisan jobs, the economy just isn’t as supportive to peripheral artists. So at this moment, into the middle of this crisis, comes Tess (Fabianne Therese, who eschews quirkiness for a pragmatism grounded equally in agency and fun). She’s a writer, though that’s currently taken a backseat to tempcraft. So she’s also biding her time, cultivating an appreciation for gin and for lanky, scruffy dudes – like Oz.

The two have a casual, unforced chemistry, and they’re as cute together as they are funny. Also, Tess introduces the color blue to Oz’s life. When they first really talk to one another, her presence brings the blue light of a bar, a shade that was always there, into sharp contrast in the redscape of how we (and Oz) have been seeing things. Williamson delivers a deeply sensitive performance, bringing a lot across without ever telegraphing the journey he’s on. His Oz is the kind of guy who keeps his cost of living down. He’s not trying to rock the boat, or make a big score, or fuck anybody over. “You’re an antique,” she says to him, and he confirms that others have said the same thing. But he’s not an idiot manchild. He’s not anybody’s stereotype. But then there’s the matter of the mysterious circuit board that shows up at the arcade. It’s when Oz hooks it up to one of the nonfunctioning cabinets at the office that things start changing.

Sequence Break shares certain of its fundamental elements with Cronenberg’s Videodrome, but its New Flesh rejects the linear hierarchy of Dr. O’Blivion’s mutagenic signal. Its White Eye is the Vajrayana of body horror, using technology as a means of transformation that philosophically feels like a biochemical remix. We repeat, we revise, we reorient. As videogame movies go, Sequence Break sits right up there near the top with Cronenberg’s eXistenZ. It gets at the aspirational nature and expansive possibilities of games, but rather than text-block backstorying the viewer into oblivion right after the opening credits, it goes immersive. Its edges don’t fit in neat spaces, conveying the audience from point A to B and so forth.

It rewards repeat viewings in the way that ‘70s and ‘80s sagas did, letting the viewer determine where the parts fit after spending some time with the story. In its vibrant color schemes and moody electronic score (imagine Vangelis and Tangerine Dream getting all pilled out in 1983 and having a no holds barred synth fight), it’s a versatile beast of a film, acquainted with the worlds of the analogue and the digital. And while Sequence Break isn’t necessarily the film you’d throw on at a party (it’s a measured, moody, meaningful film, not made for casual or indifferent viewing), it’s the horror/SciFi film you share with the ones who matter. If I had to program it in the center of a Triple Feature, I would put it between Lord of Illusions and Beyond The Black Rainbow. You know, for when you have to tear off that scab that we call reality every now and then.

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