“If there are a million different realities, then I have slept with your wife in every one of them.”
Coherence is the feature directorial debut from James Ward Byrkit and fulfills this year’s vacancy for a sci-fi brainteaser on a modest budget that excels thanks to intelligence and performance. Such films pop up with dependable irregularity, and are usually signposts for talent to watch in the coming years. Think Pi or Primer or, err, Donnie Darko (never mind, Richard Kelly, there’s still time…). Coherence is ‘one of those’ pictures. So strap yourself in and make sure you pay attention.
Eight friends gather for a dinner party on the night that a comet is passing remarkably close to the Earth. The hosts are husband and wife Mike (Nicholas ‘Xander from Buffy‘ Brendon) and Lee (Lorene Scafaria). Mike’s best friend Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) brings his wife Beth (Elizabeth Gracen). Another of Mike’s friends, Kevin (Maury Sterling), is there with his girlfriend Em (Emily Foxler), though Kevin’s vampy old flame Laurie (Lauren Maher) threatens to rock the boat with her presence. Amir (Alex Munigan) completes the octet. Got that? Good, because if you need to write things down already, you could be in for a rough 90 minutes.
The comet works as a trigger for an anomalous event. For starters all of their cell phones break. The internet bottoms out. Then, as pleasant dinner chat turns to disquiet and paranoia, all of the lights go out in the neighbourhood. But the evening is not lost. There are candles, and Mike even has several boxes of glow sticks on hand. They break out the blue box. Mike spies that a house a couple of blocks away seems to have power. Hugh, eager to find a phone that works, goes to the other house with Amir. They return, but with a story and a discovery that spills events into Twilight Zone territory… The other house is Mike and Lee’s house. And all of them are there too.
Something has happened. They break out the blue box.
Byrkit’s film worms its way into the viewer. Initially the responses of the actors seem a little heightened, as though their panic triggers are soft or premature, however the carefully measured levels of hysteria sparked by the paranormal events suck the viewer in. Credit to all performers here for convincing us to get taken away with them. It’s an ensemble piece, and, for the majority of the film, no one player is brought to the fore. They’re a likeable bunch of characters too, all fallible, and the movie is even playful with them. Mike, for instance, is a down-on-his-luck actor who, apparently, featured in bygone TV series Roswell (Brendon, good-naturedly twisting his own past). Similarly Em bemoans that her dancing career floundered when someone else captured her limelight. There’re interesting comments here about loss of place and identity that resonate with the more fantastic problem at hand. Especially when eerie doppelgangers with red glow sticks appear out of the troubling dark. So strap yourself in and make sure you pay attention.
The dinner party discover a locked box. Inside are numbered photos of all of them. And a ping-pong paddle. A further layering of mystery and intrigue. Byrkit feeds us breadcrumbs. Small morsels to keep us hanging. The slightly cumbersome inclusion of a handy quantum physics manual allows for some needed exposition. If you’re familiar with the conundrum of Schrodinger’s Cat then you may even make it a few paces ahead of the characters. That the physics book then becomes – like a number of objects – an important physical plot point is a nice touch. Keeping track of where everyone and everything is in this film might serve you well. Maybe writing things down is a good idea after all.
Coherence is a sci-fi drama that dabbles inventively with notions of self and individuality as much as it’s a piece eager to explore theories on multiple concurrent realities, yet it doesn’t get too bogged down in such notions. It’s a film with a big brain, but it’s no egg-head bore. To wit, Byrkit makes sure you’re interested in the characters also. There are relationship dramas here that unlock as events form a sort of pressure-cooker. Mike starts drinking heavily and has some reactionary responses to the threats coming from without. There’s more than one unresolved romantic triangle at work here, and, as the film progresses, an escalating suspicion that these eight people may not be the same eight people that we started with. Especially every time one, two or all of them decide to go exploring in the dark.
Byrkit’s roving camera holds this all together remarkably well. It’s an absorbing piece. It is only in the last fifteen minutes or so that the coherence of the title threatens to break down. With the core reality that the film began with slipping further and further away, and any hope of a fairytale resolution slipping out of sight, Byrkit’s story telescopes, following one player to the bitter end of this nightmare night. Copies, conundrums, continuity, coherence. The film threatens to break apart and the final stretch to the credits is a bit of a bumpy road. But one that’s as chilling, fascinating and engrossing as anything else here. They break out the blue box.
Where do events end for these characters? Maybe writing things down is a good idea after all. I fear my own review has been affected by the comet. Pieces keep ricocheting back to me. Is it a loop, or are there endless copies out there, each one slightly different? How do I put my original back together? They break out the blue box. It’s a puzzle. And if you’re up for it, one well worth investing in. Mike starts drinking heavily. Inside are a number of photos of them all. I think I’m in trouble here… Coherence is the feature directorial debut from James Ward Byrkit. Send help. They break out the blue box. Send help. Especially every time one, two or all of them decide to go exploring in the dark. Send help. Coherence is ‘one of those’ pictures. Send help.
Coherence is not in UK cinemas at this time, but should hopefully appear later in the year.