The night that Miller’s Comet passes over Earth, four couples who seem like they don’t really like each other that much get together for a dinner party. On her way to the gathering, Emily’s cell phone screen cracks as she’s talking on it. That’s Coherence‘s first warning sign, and one of its many recurring clues, that this comet is seriously going to screw up everyone’s dinner plans. Stupid outer space crap and its crummy orbital periods.
Co-written and directed by James Ward Byrkit, Coherence is a high-concept/low-budget sci-fi thriller that gets off to a shaky start. We’re introduced to eight characters rather quickly – none of them all too interesting or indelible. They convene at the home of struggling actor Mike, played by Nicholas Brendon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. Besides him and Emily, the rest of the characters are pretty unremarkable. The entire cast is uniformly excellent though and the urgent, hand-held camera work help make up for the underdeveloped characters. And honestly, who the hell cares about poorly fleshed-out pawns when you’re watching a genuine mind-bender like Coherence. Think Primer, only set in one night with more cheese and wine.
Once the film does find its footing it knocks the wind outta ya with its barrage of mysteries and dark twists. Shortly into dinner, the power goes out. The candles and glow-sticks (that Mike oddly enough has a surplus of) are busted out, then they notice that one house down the street still has its lights on. When two of them go investigate, they make an alarming discovery: it’s Mike’s house.
As Coherence gets more and more complicated, several clues are presented to help the audience keep track of what the hell is going on: band-aids, hand-written notes, numbered photos, and the aforementioned cell phone screens. These small, repeated visual indicators work wonders in a film devoid of any special effects. It’s infinitely more effective too. Just seeing a different band-aid on someone’s brow elicited me pointing at the screen like some excited toddler watching Blue’s Clues. The more you pay attention to these clues, the more enjoyable the “oh shit!” experience will be in the end.
The film thankfully doesn’t get too tied up in its discussions of quantum mechanics and Schrodinger’s cat, which pops up in a lot of media nowadays, huh? It is weird that one of the characters conveniently happens to have a book on the subject in the trunk of his car. As their paranoia increases, interpersonal relationships start to crumble under venomous accusations of infidelity, jealousy, and body-double-switcheroos. There’s something being said about human nature here and the way we react when our entire existence is threatened. As one character says, people are always talking about how they want to “find themselves.” Now that these eight characters literally found copies of themselves, they realize it’s not exactly the enlightening experience they expected.
These heady subjects are thinly examined though. What the film boils down to is a clever little thriller with a solid cast. Leave that stupid cat in the box, look past the drab characters, and approach Coherence like an extended Twilight Zone episode and you’ll have a good time.