Sequence Break Review [Fantasia 2017]

Matt Donato

Reviewed by:
On August 1, 2017
Last modified:August 1, 2017


Graham Skipper's Sequence Break tinkers with sci-fi influences while still whipping up an original story with its own shock-value advantages.

Sequence Break Review [Fantasia 2017]

Graham Skipper’s Sequence Break is a digital rabbit hole; an abyss of frothy goop slathered atop rubberized effects. Its very title foreshadows existential conflict, while an arcade kaleidoscope projects Skipper’s binary obsessions. Ideas emerge from Cronenbergian pools of coated wiring, heavily reminiscent of Videodrome visuals and paranoid shades of eXistenZ. Sci-fi psychedelics zap homemade Asteroid designs only to mask dimensional rifts that borrow from Under The Skin‘s vast nothingness. How do you break the “sequence” of life? Answers tend to vary, with Skipper’s latest being a ponderous retro purgatory worth wallowing in.

Chase Williamson stars as Oz (short for Osgood), a shy arcade tinkerer who brings busted-up cabinets back from the virtual dead – but not for much longer. Jerry (Lyle Kanouse) has to close shop, disrupting Oz’s safe engineering bubble. That’s when he meets Tess (Fabianne Therese), a “nerdy” girl who shows immediate romantic interest. This is after Oz completely ignores her presence while working and forces Tess to make the first move later that night. Can Tess break Oz from his deflated funk? Or will salvation come from a circuit board found on the shop’s floor, bringing with it a man (John Dinan) who keeps spouting cryptic gibberish.

First, let’s address the Donkey Kong in the room. It’s true. When Oz installs his new mystery game, more than coins are inserted into machine parts (fingerbaingin’ hardware). Extensive playtime sees buttons turn from glossy plastic to malleable bumps, same with the putty-like joystick. Female panting can be heard atop synthy porn tunes, while Williamson sensually presses in and out of the game’s now penetrable holes. Their connection grows deeper (levelling up), until Williamson is elbows deep in creamy muck and electronic parts. It is, in a matter of words, the hottest man-on-machine oddly sensual and perfectly representative of the hold this pulsating green gadget has over its victim. So yeah, everything you’ve heard is confirmed – for weirder or worse (better).

Skipper’s themes are tight, but sometimes it’s better to let Sequence Break take control. Don’t dissect too intently. At first, Oz is haunted by nightmares/premonitions/hallucinations – whatever they are – but with each increase in severity, planes of reality blur. Characters are sucked into blackened worlds undefined by time. Dual realities spark parallel universes, and time paradoxes detail a flesh-melting breakdown with cranial plug-ins. It’s a fun practice in stripping away digital realities, but a better head-trip than philosophy lesson. Which – don’t mix my words – isn’t a bad thing. We’re allowed to break the tethers of construct narratives in permission of madness now and again. Just know that if tech-heavy contact highs aren’t your thing, Sequence Break might be a hard sell.

Despite pacing, Williamson’s more restrained performance wades through ambivalence with reason. We must understand his “comforting” routine. This is what leads to the eventual “break in sequence” Skipper teases, but make no mistake, scenes are best at their weirdest.

As a hopeful game designer with zero ambition or confidence, Williamson can come off as monotone. Tess’ more chatty, say-too-much vivaciousness offers contrast, but there’s rarely a separation from the same fumbling awkwardness who is Oz, the loner. It’s not until spinning lines on a screen begin to unhinge Oz that Williamson exists his shell, fighting for the life he deserves. Breaking through an elastic black screen that separates alternate [whatevers] from mind-numbing repetition. Symbolic? Read how you’d like. But more important is Williamson as the screaming, electro-violating “possession” victim – a look Tess helps coax out.

Sequence Break succeeds in pushing for human fulfillment through quantum quandaries and repeat button-mashing. Graham Skipper programs a thoughtful cyber conundrum that honors its indie roots, as brainy as it is bizarre. It’s a simple concept rebooted with new intrigue – embrace every opportunity you’re handed. Or, in Skipper’s world, face the “demonic” computer chip that initiates a repetitive code meant to torment and [redacted for your own cinematic enjoyment]. Fight for something (a girl, a game, a purpose) instead of tumbling into the next fail-safe. All that, and we get some memorable genre freaks-outs (weird, but memorable)? Ready up, Player One. Time to experience Sequence Break for yourself.