Ambition belies budget in James Ward Byrkit’s directorial debut, a well-realised piece of science fiction drama that exploits its compact setting to great effect and whose cast do a fine job of conveying that all too familiar anxiety when your dinner party is interrupted by fractures in reality itself.
Eight Los Angeles arts and media types get together to chow down on canapés, exchange witticisms, and offer wine to every new arrival. When a comet passes overhead, things take a turn for the weird. The power dies, cellphones flatline, and the wi-fi goes south. For some, this horrifying picture might be too much to handle already.
It then becomes apparent that alternate versions of each character have appeared in a remarkably similar house just a few doors away. As these parallel realities begin to get too close for comfort, the evening takes an alarming detour into the realms of quantum mechanics, blackmail and paranoia. Pass that wine, please.
Byrkit’s script and direction take a fantastical premise and make the film palpable in a refreshingly grown-up manner. Thirty-to-fortysomethings having to add this anomaly to their list of relationship complications and career woes makes for a pleasing departure from the typical bunch of high school/college kids dealing with such uncanny goings on.
They are characters who delight in disgorging their small talk reserves as a way of justifying what is happening around them. Their references encompass anecdotes about comets across the centuries, Schrödinger’s cat, and the film Sliding Doors. When a film of this nature triggers that “Yeah, I’d probably say that” moment in your head, you know you’re onto something promising.
The engaging cast are uniformly impressive in bringing the strangeness of the scenario to life in a semi-improvised fashion. When an idea is floated out, it is greeted by a cacophony of chatter. It can be hard to keep track of all the yeas and nays, but works as a group of intelligent people all clutching at straws in a confined space.
Coherence’s main draw is that the doors to hidden addictions, infatuations, and bitterness are all somehow opened – and it’s enjoyable watching these characters walk back and forth through them. In this age of carefully curated social media identities, the notion of having your unscrupulous side wandering around in the flesh is an unsettling one. Coherence fits in well with that brand of Twilight Zone oddness that breeds significant disquiet from a simple idea.
Roughly hewn in places, the low-fi visuals nonetheless add an extra dimension to a film already bursting with dimensions. Shaky camera work suggests another guest jostling to find their place amongst the chaos, while exterior scenes bathed in total darkness tie in effectively with plot points. A cute sight gag involving opposing colours of glow sticks adds extra personality as well. There are one or two moments when the distrust card is overplayed, but Byrkit largely gives you the pleasure of noticing slight alterations for yourself.At 89 minutes, the film has ample time to set up its inner logic and flesh out its characters enough to ensure the conclusion provides a darkly satisfying thrill. Economy proves to be no obstacle in an enjoyable work of grounded sci-fi that carves out a place in the market as an urbane look at the nature of reality. Made for a pittance, but very rewarding.