Sequence Break [Fantasia International Film Festival Review]

Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson starred together in Beyond the Gates, a massively entertaining old school horror flick centered around nostalgia for VHS board games. They reunite for Sequence Break — the former as writer/director, the latter as leading man. Like their previous collaboration, it also has a heavy nostalgia factor. At the center of this visually arresting chiller is a mysterious arcade game.

Oz (Williamson) repairs old machines at a videogame shop. One evening, he discovers a circuit board that he’s never seen around before. Out of curiosity, he hooks it up to a game cabinet and starts playing. Immediately afterward, Oz starts having bizarre hallucinations. The game keeps luring him back, which gets in the way of his new relationship with fellow arcade enthusiast Tess (Fabianne Therese). Eventually, it becomes clear that the game is evil and must be defeated. The only way to do this is to have a “sequence break,” an act in which the player essentially violates the order of the game.

Sequence Break is like Tron meets David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. As with Disney’s ’80s cult favorite, it’s about a man fighting a videogame. And like the video equipment in Cronenberg’s landmark film, the game Oz plays comes alive, with a sexual element emerging. The joystick becomes fleshy and oozy in his hand as he caresses it. His finger plunges erotically into the button, while orgasmic noises are heard emanating from the machine. The inner workings of the game pulsate as he plays. We sense that it is luring him in both hypnotically and erotically. It’s a delightfully provocative depiction of the addictive nature of videogames.

To spoil anything else that happens would be unfair. What’s important is that Williamson and Therese give solid performances that bring some humanity to the otherworldly events. As director, Skipper employs all manner of visual tricks to create an ambiance of danger. Lighting effects, editing techniques, onscreen gaming graphics, and some creatively rendered shots of things bursting out of the machine and onto (or into) Oz combine to craft a film that’s entertaining for its unpredictable nature. The grand finale, in particular, goes into deliriously weird territory, in the best possible way.

At 75 minutes, the film could have used a little more story development; the “rules” of how the game works its dark magic and how, specifically, Oz attempts to beat it are never quite clear. Clarifying those things more would have kicked it all up another notch. That aside, Sequence Break is the kind of imaginative, risk-taking horror that’s always thrilling to behold.

For more on the Fantasia International Film Festival and the titles screening this year, visit their official website.

Follow Mike McGranaghan on Twitter: @aisleseat

The Honor Farm [Fantasia International Film Festival Review]

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The Honor Farm is a coming-of-age tale told in the horror format. Lucy (Olivia Applegate) is excited for prom. She intends to lose her virginity to her boyfriend on this most magical of nights. When he gets sloppy drunk and makes a fool of himself, Lucy and friend Annie (Katie Folger) accept a random invitation from some punk girls to go into the woods, do some mushrooms with their guy friends, then seek out an old prison work farm that is allegedly a popular place to carry out Satanic rituals. The experience ends up changing her life.

Director Karen Skloss amps up the psychedelia with some trippy visuals and editing techniques so that you aren’t entirely sure for a while whether the horrific things Lucy sees at the work farm are real or merely a ‘shroom-induced hallucination.The approach is very effective, especially once the gang stumbles across what appears to be a human sacrifice about to take place.

Applegate gives a nice, nuanced performance as the good girl who impulsively decides to take a one-time walk on the wild side, only to be surprised by what it offers. The Honor Farm has a sharp, satiric suggestion that prom is a ritual not unlike a Satanic rite — pointlessly messy and really just kind of evil. The story’s ending is subtle, but if you pay close attention, you’ll find a message about non-conformity to high school expectations and traditions that would make John Hughes proud.

Running just 75 minutes (including end credits), The Honor Farm could have fleshed out its ideas even more. Still, this is a stylish, well-acted, and unique take on what it means to face that time in your life when you’re right on the cusp of adulthood and frightened by what the transition might entail, but also eager to take that scary leap into the unknown.

For more on the Fantasia International Film Festival and the movies screening this year, please visit their official website.