Oz prefers to stay indoors, tinkering with and fixing old cabinet video game systems. He is very good at what he does but business is not what it used to be and his boss Jerry has broken the bad news that he has to shut down the shop in a months time. Before Jerry heads out of town he encourages Oz to ring up the young woman Tess who came by the shop earlier looking for a video game for her brother.
Later an envelope arrives with an unmarked motherboard in it. Oz plugs it into an empty cabinet and a strange game, a combination of Astroids graphics and Tempest gameplay, pops up on screen. Oz is immediately drawn into the game and a strange relationship between man and machine begins.
Director and writer Graham Skipper is an actor first, appearing in standouts from the American indie horror scene like Almost Human and The Mind's Eye. He jumps behind the camera for a second time with his sophomore feature film Sequence Break. What he presents to us is allegorical and as near a personal tale as he could make of the dangers of living in the past, caught in the lures of nostalgia, when opportunity sits there in front of you. It is a central theme that may speak to any of us, about discovering and taking those opportunities to kickstart your life or find something to do that you love. Sequence Break follows an extreme take on that theme as it takes something grotesque and monstrous to open Oz's eyes to new opportunities.
There are two key relationships in Sequence Break. The relationship between Oz and Tess is portrayed respectfully; through simple things like whenever they're in bed they're always clothed. There is nothing exploitative about their relationship and their interactions come across as genuine. The relationship does scare Chase Williamson's Oz, because this is something new, something out of his comfort zone, hence his scary visions. But this is all accomplished because Skipper himself is an actor first so he knows how to get a honest portrayal of a budding yet stumbling relationship out of Williamson and Fabian Therese. Skipper will be an actor's director.
On the other hand Oz's relationship with the game and the machine is a relationship that is meant to be, in Skipper's own words to me, a "more pornographic, exploitative one". Ectoplasm grows in the machine. The motherboard undulates and pulsates as Oz reaches higher and higher levels. As he mentally delves deeper into the game he physically engages with the cabinet, deeper and unsettlingly deeper. The games and the cabinet are the physical manifestation of the mental traps that Oz has found himself in.
No irony is lost in Sequence Break's nostalgic esthetique. The film stands out for its use of color, which Skipper drew influence from the works directors like Stuart Gordon and Dario Argento. Of course the link of the body horror elements in the film to David Cronenberg and films from his canon like Videodrome and Existenz is unmistakable, though Skipper again does credit Gordon for the slime factor, from his film From Beyond. Lovers of the old school practical effects have no shortage of great, gooey scenes to squirm to in Skipper's film. And to his credit, in light of the nostalgia wary plot line, the majority of those effects are done the old school way, in camera.
Sequence Break is an allegorical tale, speaking to Skipper's audience much as the story was about himself as well. The opportunity presented itself for Skipper to direct another film and tell another story and he took that opportunity, and rocked it.
Likewise, Oz can no longer live in the past. If he can break the sequence in the game, he has broken free from what is tying him down, holding him back from achieving his dreams. Oz can still appreciate what came before him, what inspires him to rebuild these cabinet arcade games to the recent glory. But if he never looks ahead he will miss what it is front of him, building his own game and the affection of Tess.
(Sequence Break is now available exclusively on streaming service Shudder, has been since May 27th. We just got caught up in this new game and... time got away from us. You know how that is.)