D: James Ward Byrkit / 89m
Cast: Emily Foxler, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Elizabeth Gracen, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher, Hugo Armstrong, Lorene Scafaria
Eight friends gather together for a dinner party on an evening when a comet is passing close to Earth. Em (Foxler) is the first to arrive and just as she gets there the screen of her mobile phone cracks for no apparent reason. The same thing happens to Hugh (Armstrong). Passing it off as an unfortunate side effect of the comet’s passing, the group of friends continue with their meal. There is some tension as one of them, Amir (Manugian), has brought his new girlfriend, Laurie (Maher) with him and she used to go out with Kevin (Sterling) who is there with Em. As they talk about various issues, Em has a growing sense of unease. When the lights go out suddenly, a look outside reveals the whole area is without electricity – except for another house a couple of blocks away. With their mobile phones not working, and no landline, Hugh and Amir decide to go over to the other house to see if the people there have a phone they can use.
When they return, they have a box with them. When they open the box they find a ping pong bat and pictures of themselves with numbers written on the back of each of the pictures. What makes this discovery even more disturbing is that the photo of Amir has been taken that evening, there in the house. As the group tries to work out what’s going on, personal rivalries and past betrayals come to the fore, and the secret of the house nearby begins to reveal itself.
To reveal more about the structure and the nature of Coherence would be to do a disservice to both the movie and any potential viewers. Suffice it to say, the movie is a clever, intriguing mix of science fiction and relationship drama, with more twists and turns than the average Agatha Christie adaptation. The central premise is well executed, and the way in which the characters behave, and how they react to what is going on, is handled with careful attention to detail. The mystery unfolds slowly at first, and deliberately, until the effects of the comet’s passing begin to snowball, with one revelation after another pulling the rug out from under each of the friends.
Be warned though: you will need to pay attention, and not just to what’s being said, but also to the visuals, where there are plenty of clues to be found. Coherence demands a lot, but it’s worth the investment. Thanks to the cleverly detailed script by writer/director Byrkit, the movie takes a recent development in quantum mechanics and uses it as the foundation for the strange events that take place. As the movie gets “weirder”, Byrkit keeps track of the marginal changes that occur alongside the more obvious ones in a way that – mostly – keeps the viewer up to speed. It’s often the more subtle clues that have the greater effect (keep an eye out for the band aid). That said, the movie does trip itself up a couple of times in its efforts to make things even more complex than they already are, but for such a low-budget, and largely improvised production, these should be forgiven.
The cast do extremely well with the material, especially considering they were given only basic outlines of their characters and motivations, and the more major plot points. To their collective credit, they all acquit themselves well, with special mention going to Foxler (better known as Emily Baldoni), Brendon (as host Mike), and Armstrong. Considering the set up, and its potential for some unnecessary over-acting, it’s good to see a cast who are committed to the material in such a way that even the most dubious of reactions or decisions are acceptable, or made plausible by their conviction. One revelation could have easily gone down the route of being played as soap opera, but instead it’s played with power and validity.
In the director’s chair, Byrkit orchestrates things with confidence and uses hand-held cameras to provide a sense of immediacy. It’s a sometimes dizzying effect and can be annoying when anyone ventures outside the house and there’s a reliance on close ups (so as to avoid any evidence of non-blackout areas in the background), but by and large it adds to the growing sense of paranoia and disquiet. The use of Byrkit’s own home as the principal setting allows for an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere, and he uses the space to move his characters around like pieces on a chess board.
Anyone interested in science will (hopefully) find much to like – it’s a rare movie that takes time out to explain the concept behind Schrödinger’s Cat – and there’s enough here to attract the attention of fans of cerebral dramas also. The movie does descend into thriller territory as one character searches for a way out of their predicament, and while this does seem forced, it also adds another layer to the quandary everyone’s facing, giving rise to the question, What would you do if it was you yourself that was threatening your place in the world?
Rating: 8/10 – some narrative stumbles aside, Coherence is a complex sci-fi thriller that is as much about notions of existence as it is about the nature of reality; intelligent and gripping, this is one movie that is rigorous, inventive and when it needs to be, effortlessly chilling.