Film Review – Coherence
Ah, the dinner party movie. It’s a standard for the low-budget movie folks because it’s got limited locations and endless possibilities for conversation. It’s not my favorite genre because the action tends to be the revelation of who in the room is sleeping with whom. And honestly, that’s not my kind of movie. I don’t mind films that are entirely dialogue driven, but spiraling down into domestic despair is not what I want to do for 90 minutes. There are exceptions to this. The first half of Melancholia is a very depressing wedding party and I love the shit out of that movie. But it’s really, really good and sets up the apocalyptic second half of the film. For the most part though, it’s just not my bag. And that’s kind of how Coherence, directed by James Ward Byrkit, starts out – a bunch of annoying people get together for a dinner party and darkness gets revealed. But, this is no ordinary night, and this is no ordinary dinner party movie.
Miller’s comet is passing overhead and people are expecting some mild disturbances with their electronics, but that is about it. Professional dancer Em (Emily Baldoni) is on her way to the dinner party and talking to her boyfriend Kevin (Maury Sterling) on the phone when the screen of her smart phone just cracks. She’s been warned it might happen by the news, so she thinks it’s weird, but doesn’t freak out about it. She arrives at the dinner party hosted by actor friend Mike (Nicholas Brendon) and his wife Lee (Lorene Scafaria), to be greeted by them and Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), who informs Em that Kevin’s annoying ex-girlfriend Laurie (Lauren Maher) will be there and then offers her a relaxing tonic made from various herbs and ketamine. Em says no thanks to the drugs and greets the just-arrived Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Kevin. Amir (Alex Manugian) and Laurie show up and the drama begins.
Em is indecisive and cannot decide if she will be travelling to Vietnam with Kevin. Kevin tells a funny story involving Laurie and not Em. Laurie wants to get back together with Kevin. Emir is kind of a dick. Beth is kind of a freak. Hugh’s phone screen cracks. There is no cell reception and the Internet at the house is down. And then the power goes out. The group decides it is another anomaly related to the comet and wander outside to see how extensive the blackout is. They see one house a couple of blocks away with the lights on, and Hugh decides to go over and see if they have a landline. His brother is a scientist and told him to call him if things got freaky during the comet. He and Amir leave and come back with an unbelievable story and a very strange box. Hugh maintains that the house he saw was another version of their house, and the box contains pictures of Em and all her friends.
I’m just going to stop right here. The main pleasure of this film is discovering what the hell is going on, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. Let’s just say that this is a sci-fi dinner party film and some weird shit happens after Hugh and Amir get back from the other house. I was torn on this movie because even though the sci-fi stuff is mostly pretty cool, it is a dinner party film with all the things I hate about the genre. Everybody is annoying. There isn’t time for a lot of character building, so Byrkit – who is also the film’s writer – just sketches out their characters and they almost all end up unpleasant caricatures of people we expect to see in a dinner party movie. And while the science fiction elements are inventive, the device he uses to explain the mystery, a forgotten copy of a book, is clunky and unconvincing. I am also not sure if I buy the actions of one of the characters in the final act; they seem pretty out of character. But in the end, this film won me over and I am going to recommend it. It has some big flaws, but the plot takes some pretty fun twists and turns and I was sucked deep into the puzzle. I love low budget sci-fi films that rely on smarts instead of effects and this is a great example of how a great plot can overcome a lot of other issues. I was willing to buy into it, because the pleasure of discovery was so great. This is Byrkit’s first full-length feature and I will be very interested to see what he does next. Give this film a try if you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary this summer.