Coherence review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Coherence is a science fiction not of visuals, but ideas. The theory of quantum mechanics and parallel worlds is turned into a creepy party game for a gathering in a California suburban home. Shot on a shoestring budget, there are no lavish special effects and it was shot in the simple shaky camera format. It could’ve easily fallen into a forgettable bin of ambitious indie productions. But thanks to some grounded characters and a laser-focused story, Coherence winds up being one of the most intelligent sci-fi pictures of the decade.
In an upper-middle class home, a group of friends gather for a night of wine, cheese and gabbing. Their gathering happens to coincide with the passing of a comet which causes all their smart-phone screens to crack and the internet to go out. In their many conversations of careers and remedies, the subject of the comet comes up in which one person makes reference to a comet passing that caused an entire town to be confused. Those who were going somewhere found themselves lost and a wife claims to have murdered her husband who is still alive. Foreboding to be sure, but what transpires next is creepy tapestry of a Twilight Zone concept.
The power goes out in the neighborhood and a few venture out to find out what’s going on. They return shaken and with a box. Inside the box are photos of everybody in the house along with numbers written on each one. The twist is that the photos seem to have been taken recently in their house. When were these taken and what do the numbers mean? For more answers, a larger group takes some blue glow sticks and take a trip out into the dark night. While crossing the street, they witness a frightening sight: themselves with red glow sticks. The two parties, frightened of each other, quickly retreat back to their houses. Fearful and desperate for answers, they start receiving notes from their other selves and start forming their theories of just what is going on. These include the ideas of a parallel universe and the Schrodinger’s cat experiment.
Though there is a large ensemble cast at play, the one character we’re given to latch onto in this dense plot is Em (Emily Foxler). She arrives at the party with her new boyfriend as well as her ex. We mostly get to follow this entire mystery from her perspective amid all the speculation and paranoia conveyed by the others. Em starts identifying such perplexing clues and strange changes as when the numbers seem to change, phones are no longer broken and all the information that has been gathered already is flipped upside down. That’s not to say that the rest of the cast isn’t interesting as the group includes a new-age pagan cleric, a former star of the TV show Roswell and bearded baldy who seems to have inside information on this whole ordeal.
The brilliance of Coherence is in its simplicity. There are no big name actors, no scene stealing dialogue and no characters that chew up what little set there is. What kept me glued to the screen were the ideas being posed and the slow discovery of each clue. Director James Ward Byrkit keeps the plot moving and the characters talking fast enough that few moments feel like dull or wasted opportunities. Byrkit’s story rarely gives a moment of breath to delve deeper into the psyche of the characters or a true explanation for the events as they transpire. It’s a bit of a tradeoff, but one well worth the exchange for a more engaging puzzle pictures.
I’m doing my best not to reveal too much about this story because it unfolds beautifully as an unconventional sci-fi mystery. It plays with our perceptions in what we know, who to trust and just what may be manipulating all that is going on. The vagueness plays to the strengths of the picture where you just can’t wait to see what transpires next. It’s no sci-fi classic, but it manages to create something wonderful out of next to nothing.