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Review: SEQUENCE BREAK

Sequence Break

Sequence Break Review – 3.5 stars

Graham Skipper‘s Sequence Break is difficult to describe with its strange, bizarre and complex story that blurs the line between reality and fantasy as a technician named Oz (Chase Williamson) is tormented by indecipherable visions. What is clear is that the oddities are linked to a mysterious arcade game and the arrival of two strangers; one, a beautiful young woman called Tess (Fabianne Therese) and the other, an emotionally unstable person known only as The Man (John Dinan). Both are attracted to the game, but only one understands the true extent of its power. What begins to unfold is a race against time as Oz’s involvement with the game threatens to break down his entire sense of being and the world around him.

Tess’ appearance immediately arouses suspicion and her eventual enticement to the game furthers the ease it is to be wary of her. Sequence Break’s lack of definition helps its ability to remain consistently unpredictable, as the events that occur are nightmarish moments, rather than chronological events to be made sense of. It’s easier to sit back and enjoy the film’s refusal to be understood, immersing yourself in the film’s perfectly retro soundtrack that could have been ripped straight out of an arcade, and colourful visuals that nod back to the striking lighting used in ’80s cinema and, most noticeably, TRON.

To describe Sequence Break as surreal would be an understatement. The film’s combination of sci-fi, horror and romantic elements is just the beginning of its complicated identity that remains impossible to define. With nostalgic leanings to the days where arcade shops were all the rage, it’s impossible to ignore Sequence Break‘s appreciation for the old-school. The story’s focus on a technician who restores abandoned and broken arcade games is appropriate for today’s world where young gamers are obsessed with the latest Call of Duty, but may never have touched a coin-operated arcade machine. As much as it is a journey into the absurd and a showcase of impressively icky special effects, Sequence Break is a love letter to those that reminisce about days spent playing Space Invaders and Pac-Man.

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Oz becomes enticed by an ominously painted pitch-black video game that works as a sort of sexual awakening for his character; the game controls literally melts between his fingers, moulding into gooey, sticky openings that allow him to insert himself fully and physically into the cyber-space of the game itself. It is no accident that Oz’s infatuation with the game begins as he starts a relationship with Tess, paving the way for two different, but equally as psychological sexual journeys. He becomes lost in the world of the video game, becoming increasingly eager to discover what it’s all about and, at the same time, is visited by a troubled man who tells Oz he has a specific purpose. The film’s oddly sexual imagery and vague narrative direction crafts a film that is beautifully bizarre on the inside and outside.

The film borrows from David Cronenbergian horror to push the boundaries of the expected, opening the doors to a world that dominated by the indescribable. Skipper’s vision of the game becoming an almost physical entity has been snatched from Videodrome and its innovative vision of the media itself becoming a place to fear. Sequence Break works an impressive and loving respect to an era that is long gone, but inserts its homage with necessary modern twists to prevent it from being just another film that loves the ’80s.

The end becomes a complicated and, admittedly, convoluted and confusing climax, that further bends the film’s nonsensical narrative. It’s difficult to explain and almost impossible to define, but Sequence Break‘s confident foray into a dark video game world is enticing for all its differences, but also for its clear inspirations.

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Review: THE BELKO EXPERIMENT

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When an isolated corporate building is mysteriously put under lock-down, a sinister voice on the intercom announces that the employees must kill each other or be killed themselves. The Belko Experiment is Battle Royale in an office block and it’s an absolutely and unabashedly brilliant, bloody time.

The concept alone is immediately appealing, especially for those of us that spend our 9-5s in an office, praying for something exciting to happen. Anything. But, what if that something meant killing your co-workers and fighting an impossible fight for survival where there can only be one winner? I’ll pass. After watching The Belko Experiment’s bold and twisted social experiment you may find yourself strangely relieved that your day was a little bit boring.

The Belko Experiment is a riot for genre fans and those like their horror relentlessly violent and gory. Expect creative kills and murder galore as the characters are whittled down from a few hundred to very few during the film’s modest 89 minute run time. The deaths are captured in frequent glorious slow-motion to a soundtrack that escalates the intensity, but injects The Belko Experiment with a generous dose of fun to remind us that this isn’t really to be taken seriously.

The technical and visual flair of The Belko Experiment is a welcome surprise, with brightly coloured lighting dousing the film in a hyper-real glaze to emphasise the film’s concern with the excessive and the extreme. As with a desire to show as many office-related kills as possible, The Belko Experiment wants its audience to have a good time more than anything. Much like director Greg McLean‘s darkly comic killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) from Wolf Creek  who walks the thin line between the horrific and the hilarious, there is a playfulness and a clear intention to be both funny and frightening at The Belko Experiment’s core. This ensures that film’s social commentary shines consistently bright, but never outweighs Belko’s drive to have a good time.

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Stripping away the film’s superficial outer layer that sees it painted as an exploitative bombardment of death and dismay, and there is fairly obvious but necessary exploration of moral issues and the difficulty of being faced with this office Battle Royale. The Belko Experiment can be read as an anti-corporation tale where the top dogs at the peak of the office food chain easily take charge, attempt to make the rules and demand everyone follows suit. Aside from the obvious villains on the other side of the intercom, it is the corporation’s most powerful that are painted most negatively. However, their representation is far from simple and I challenge anyone who doesn’t almost side with their attempt to “fairly” decide who should be killed first.

The Belko Experiments proves that an all-star cast doesn’t have to be saved for a cheesy rom-com or an A-lister action flick, with the recognisable faces of John Gallagher Jr, Michael Rooker, Melonie Diaz, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley and co., making the film all the more unpredictable and shamelessly exciting. It’s easy fun watching the cast wreak havoc, desperately trying to stay alive, but all-the-while battling their own inner moral issues. Sure, some of them find the killing easier than the rest, but no one’s hands are free from blood in Belko.

Managing to balance humour, horror and necessary moral concerns, The Belko Experiment is smart, slick and furiously entertaining, benefiting from the strong cast that make it effortlessly enjoyable.

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Cinema

Review: RAW

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When a movie professes to “make people faint,” you have to take it with a pinch of salt. After all, PR and marketing leap on these words like a feverish young woman leaps on a succulent young man. They are buzzwords. “SHOCKING” it’ll read on the poster. “INFAMOUSLY DISGUSTING. YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT.” All the while, knowing that horror fans will line up in their hundreds to get a taste.

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REVIEW: Peelers

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From its synopsis, ‘A small town strip club owner must defend her bar, her strippers and her life when violent infected patrons show up on the final closing night and all hell breaks loose’, Peelers can only go one of two ways. It’s either the enjoyable exploitative horror flick with enough comedy and knowingness to subvert, entertain and delight horror fans; or, it will conform to all the pitfalls, tropes and tribulations that are inadvertently offensive, lame and what tear down the genre, creating wastes of time. This is, sadly, the latter.

Blue Jean (Wren Walker) is running the club for one last time. The lowbrow patrons are typically sleazy, but so are some of the staff, as illustrated by the barman. With Blue Jean’s son in trouble with the police, a looming levelling of the club, a new girl’s first night with a jealous ex and, of course, the violent virus that turns people into zombies from the 28 Days Later universe. With all of that, you can see it being completely typical with no fresh beats and stagnant, overdone tropes. To make the same things engaging again, you need good dialogue delivered by better actors. Neither of these are on display in Peelers.

What is the biggest disappointment of this entire 95-minute ordeal is that its writing is so trite, grotesque and insulting is that it makes you hate all the characters. Although, there is an argument to be made that the film is simulating real people in that off-putting way, but the goal of a film is empathy at any level. If the audience can’t empathise with them then they can’t connect, spectating instead of engaging. It creates resentment in Peelers. None of the characters are interesting nor are ones you support. People are painted with a cynical brush, perhaps for comedy, but if it is then it cannot be found outside of the creators.

Peelers Still

Then again, perhaps they don’t care about the characters either. People are killed off and the body count for a small club ‘going out of business’ is ridiculously high. Rural rent in a small town cannot be too hard to recover from when you have a club packed with patrons, described as regulars. Perhaps it’s the excessive number of staff. Maybe, if cynicism is what’s welcomed to this world, then they are all there as fodder for the virus to try to excite an unexciting story. Again, sadly, it feels like the latter.

The amateur filmmaking in every production sense, on-screen and off, dampens already sodden material. Cinematography reeks of first time users with a Canon DSLR, made worse by full-on lighting and overexposed scenes that point out all budgetary restrictions. Worse than that is the acting, unfortunately. One-tone is an understatement. It points even further to an amateur at filmmaking rather than a professional production. Characters are indistinguishable, pointed out further by performances that have been mocked for years to come. Peelers is a missed opportunity for fun. What it maybe attempts is fun, but with unengaging, unmotivating characters and low-level production, all you have is violence masquerading as excitement. You won’t remember any scenes from Peelers, but you will remember the feeling of nothingness you had when watching it.

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Reviews

SXSW Review: LIKE ME

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A lonely girl, isolated and driven by a desire to connect, goes on a spree of intimidation and criminality that she broadcasts online to an ever maligned and vicious audience. However, as her actions intensify, her grip on reality begins to slip and the nightmare of the self leads her to the darkest of paths.

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Cinema

Review: GET OUT

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The best kind of horror has always been the films where real life expectations and experiences are subverted. They play on our day to day lives, twisting our reality into something perverse that cuts into the depths of our nightmares and embellishes it on the big screen.

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Reviews

REVIEW: Atomica

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In Atomica, safety inspector Abby Dixon (Sarah Habel) flies out to inspect an isolated nuclear power plant, she discovers that the plant’s two employees are both acting very strangely. Not only must Abby fix the plant’s communications control, she must determine who she can trust. If anyone…

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Reviews

SXSW Review: Game of Death

Game of Death

Seven teenagers find a seemingly ordinary day of coasting through adolescence changed by the discovery of a board game, the eponymous Game of Death. The rules are simple…kill or be killed. When this rule is ignored, the grizzly reality behind the game is revealed, and with their own lives on the line, will they play along and kill to survive?

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REVIEW: The Chamber

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Directed by first-time feature director Ben Parker, The Chamber follows three members of a Special Ops team and the pilot of a submersible craft who become trapped underwater during a secret recovery mission. What ensues is equally a battle of wits and determination as it is a classic fight for survival, but The Chamber is never quite as exciting or claustrophobic as its concept would suggest. Nonetheless, as an easy-to-watch thriller, The Chamber delivers enough thrills and edge-of-your-seat action to ensure you make it to its nail-biting end.

The Chamber is only 86 minutes long, but when almost 80 of those are spent in a claustrophobic submersible, you really begin to feel those minutes as they slowly tick by. And it’s not always a good thing. It’s great to feel the same suspense, paranoia and stress as the trapped characters, but it is the characters themselves that will truly begin to grate on your nerves. Edwards AKA Red (Charlotte Salt) who is the leader of the Special Ops team, is particularly aggravating. Her take-no-shit attitude would have been commendable if her accent wasn’t so terrible. You don’t have to know that Salt was born in Newcastle to sniff out her poor attempt at being American, but it sure does help.

The Chamber4Red is the leader of the Special Ops team and spends the majority of the film barking orders or back-chatting poor Mats (Johannes Kuhnke), the pilot. Writing a strong female character in your film is wonderful, but there is a difference between a woman who is strong-willed, smart and courageous and, simply, a bitch. Within the first 10 minutes I was eager for her to die or, at least, be taken down a peg or 20, but no such luck. She’s a woman after all and, of course, no real danger will come to her. Red becomes a character desperately thrown in to appeal to the feminist audience; a beacon for equality that shines no brighter than a flickering candle. Sure, she has a snappy temper, but she’ll need more than that if she is to be the Ripley of this submersible ship.

Aside from the annoyance caused by the film’s sole female character, the rest of The Chamber isn’t too bad. It’s certainly not perfect and there are a lot of moments that drag when we’re left to watch the crew fight like cats and dogs, but when The Chamber is at its best, it’s a gripping and unpredictable ride where the end is never quite certain. When you make it past the dwindling beginning to the ferocious finale you’ll appreciate the shift in pace, thanking the slower opening for shining a light on the film’s most exhilarating moments. The film improves as it goes on as the characters are at their wit’s end, truly struggling to survive as the submersible slowly fills with water after getting damaged. It is then that the tension effortlessly rises as we know it is only a matter of time before they drown. It’s a simple and sure way to ensure suspense, but it’s an effective one.

Parker manages to use the small space exceedingly well by shooting scenes up-close and personal, showing the characters’ confinement in simple shots that barely fit everyone in the frame. It’s a believably tiny space and when coupled with the film’s few heart-racing scenes, it’s impossible not to commend The Chamber‘s execution of top-notch action. Even if they are far and few between. Coupled with one character’s dwindling sanity and a few make-or-break moments, The Chamber‘s final half an hour is its strongest. There’s nothing truly memorable to ensure you’re thinking about this Chamber long after the credits role, but there are a couple of surprises in this solid, well-directed story of survival.

Despite never offering as much excitement as it could have, The Chamber makes ample use of its claustrophobic setting to deliver a short – but not always sweet – thrilling underwater adventure.

The Chamber will be released in cinemas on 10th March 2017, and on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download on 20th March 2017.

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Review: WE GO ON is a Truly Human and Poignant Parable

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Do you remember what it was like to be child? The days going by with nothing but time, support and no fears. It is pleasant when you close your eyes and remember as well as create scenarios that reflect innocence that you have experienced. It’s a powerful set of moments that make you feel warm, confident and free from anything that may hurt you. In the same breath, it is the same memories and feelings that can cultivate fear, anxiety and angst with everything in the world around you. This is one of the prime themes for the film We Go On from filmmakers Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton.

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DVD

REVIEW: Vengeance: A Love Story

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Despite its by-the-numbers title, Vengeance: A Love Story doesn’t have much vengeance in it. Actually, come to think of it, it doesn’t have much love either. And the story is pure melodrama, sketched from paper-thin characters and well-worn genre tropes.

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