Directed By: James Ward Byrkit
Written By: James Ward Byrkit
Starring: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Elizabeth Grayson
MPAA: Not Rated (Equivalent to “R” for language)
It wasn’t too long ago that the terms “low-budget” and “sci-fi” were synonymous with B-movie trite. Cube and it’s relentlessly unnecessary sequels come to mind. Sure, there were big ideas at play, but they were bogged down by cheesy special effects and laughably bad acting. It’s hard to achieve a successful suspension of disbelief when monetary limitations are so blatantly obvious.
This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, thanks to a recent surge of well-crafted, indie science fiction offerings. Younger directors seem to be “getting it.” Science fiction doesn’t have to be all laser guns and giant robots. There will always be room for the visually fantastic, but thought provoking ideas and relatable characters can be just as visceral–maybe even more so for a tried-and-true sci-fi audience. Like Primer, Moon, and Monsters before it, Coherence continues this trend of offering a compelling narrative and unique direction in lieu of endless spectacle, resulting in a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat while simultaneously prodding at your brain. By the end, your mind may even be blown.
Coherence begins with eight friends reuniting for a dinner party the same night a comet will be flying by within close proximity to Earth. This doesn’t bode well with Em (Emily Baldoni/Foxler), who read somewhere that comets tend to bring forth anomalous situations. And she has other reasons to feel tense. For some strange reason, her cell phone decides to randomly crack–the first occurrence in a chain of strange events. Her boyfriend Kevin (Maury Sterling) is pressuring her to travel abroad with him for four months, an idea that Em isn’t too thrilled with. To make matters worse, Kevin’s ex-girlfriend Laurie (Lauren Maher) is at the party as well, so pangs of jealousy begin to sink in.
Despite the awkward situation, the night seems to be going fairly well, and the interaction between these dinner guests is a refreshing departure from the “let’s get down to business” cliches used when adult characters in movies decide to congregate. Their banter is playful and often silly–it’s how thirty to forty-something year olds actually act when coming together as a group of friends. In other words, they act like children.
And then the lights go out. Except for one house down the block, the entire neighborhood has lost power. Hugh (Hugo Armstrong), decides to go investigate and see what’s going on, taking Laurie’s date (Alex Manugian) with him. They return to the house visibly shaken with a mysterious cache in hand. Inside the box, the confused dinner guests discover pictures of themselves with seemingly random numbers written on the back of each one. Hugh is acting strange, and after a decent amount of jabbing from the rest of the group, reveals what he saw at the other house–he saw them. Duplicates, doppelgangers, whatever you want to call it. The lit-up house was another version of this very same dinner party.
The dinner guests begin to piece together possible explanations for what is currently happening, ultimately deciding that the other house exists in a parallel reality brought to life thanks to the comet. Things get a little murky here, but ambiguity is an asset used to it’s fullest extent within Coherence. None of these characters are experts in quantum physics–they only know about such oddities from what they’ve read and what they’ve heard from other people.
At this point, it’s easy for a film like Coherence to lose it’s (ahem) coherence, but director/writer James Ward Byrkit uses a gonzo-filmmaking technique that keeps everything surprisingly grounded in our reality: the script is entirely improvised. Byrkit laid out plot points and provided general instructions, allowing his actors to completely make up their lines on the spot. It’s a daring way to do things, but it works. Their dialogue is organic, and because of this, the narrative is at once urgent and easy to comprehend, even when things begin to get a little convoluted.
There are a few philosophical arguments that go along with the techno-babble, but they won’t be revealed here. Let’s me put it this way: Coherence brings up interesting ideas surrounding morality and humanity, and as such begs for repeated viewings. Thankfully, it’s a trip you’re going to want to take over and over again.
Along with the overt complexity of the story (especially in the latter half), there are a few elements within Coherence that beg for a little nit-picking. Some of the characters feel a little underdeveloped. Coherence runs at a tight 90 minutes, so it’s understandable as to why certain dinner guests are given precedence over others, but it still doesn’t explain why Laurie is so intimidating to everyone else. Yes, she’s a former flame–a “threat” if you will–but if this really was the case, why would Amir bring her along in the first place? Such details are eventually unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still frustrating to see characters that simply exist to fill in a vacant emotional hole.
The score is also a little problematic. Most of the film features a droning synth line–which is mostly effective–but every so often other instruments will begin playing as well, and it sounds out of place and oddly cheap when this happens. It’s a small detail, to be sure, but the score may have the undesired effect of pulling viewers away from the drama.
With that said, it’s easy to forgive this movie for not being able to afford an orchestra. There is just so much here that works. The cast is stellar, the story will pull you in, and Byrkit is a new director that needs to be watched closely by sci-fi cinephiles everywhere. Coherence is his first theatrical production–and it’s a no-budget affair that uses limitations to its advantage, a trick used by both Gareth Edwards and Colin Trevorrow in their respective debut films. It takes a creative mind to create something so enthralling out of almost nothing, and like Edwards and Trevorrow, his efforts need to be commended with a larger palette next time around.
So do yourself a favor–stop whatever you’re doing now and rent Coherence. You’ll thank me later.
Coherence Theatrical Trailer