Coherence Review (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Coherence (2014)

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Coherence (available now on Amazon Instant and other VOD services) follows a small group of friends' increasingly strange discoveries one night as a comet passing overhead interrupts an otherwise standard dinner party. With echoes of Primer and Another Earth, Coherence is a promising if ultimately not completely satisfying feature debut by James Ward Byrkit, shot on handheld cameras on a shoestring budget with actors largely improvising their own dialogue.

Coherence - Directed by James Ward ByrkitKyle Like Banner

At the start of Coherence, a woman talks to her significant other on the phone while she's driving to a party. They exchange some basic small talk before the signal starts to break up, and we get, through the fragments that come through, that there's something he needs to talk to her about later once they've both arrived. The signal cuts out completely and out of the blue, as she's holding it, her phone cracks. She mentions to a friend that she heard on the news this could happen as a result of a comet scheduled to pass overhead that night.

Within a handful of scenes, we'll start to see other, much stranger, apparent effects of the comet's passing—all the power on the street going dead at once with the exception of a single house a block away, a note left on the characters' front door, a box the contents of which are in certain key ways almost literally impossible—and it's the way the group reacts to and tries to understand these events that forms the meat of the movie. The opening scene described above is a good one, because it sets the stage for the type of experience the audience is in for—one in which the faux-casual observations of the camera may (and may is important to emphasize) gloss over significant details and clues that the audience will have to pick up on, evaluate, and decode themselves as the night goes on.

The whole movie was shot (mostly) in a single house over the course of five days, with a cast that knew the basic plot points to hit and then improvised dialogue as they went. Yet it doesn't suffer from the same hollowness many such movies do—there are no dead spots where the dialogue seems like filler, because the actors involved have great chemistry as a group and the movie provides them with such a paradox to react to that there's rarely a need or occasion for useless banter past the first 15 or so minutes.

Encountering The Others outside the house

Director James Ward Byrkit uses handheld cameras to great effect throughout, managing to get some unexpectedly creepy images when the characters do venture outside their house.

One of the most interesting, and at times detracting, things about Coherence is the way it drops subtle clues that something we're seeing—a remark, a quick look between characters, small details in clothing and appearance—could be relevant to our understanding of the larger situation that's unfolding. I love movies like this, that hint at a larger mystery or mythology and then rely on the viewer to fill in the blanks, which is why Coherence is at once mesmerizing and a little disappointing. Without giving anything away, the situation the characters find themselves in is clarified fairly early on—and readily accepted by all of them with almost absurd willingness—which takes some of the weight out of a lot of the events that follow.

The problem is that once the film's central paradox is established, it introduces a distinct and convenient catch-all line of reasoning for any abnormal events and character interactions from that point on. While the more important thing is to watch the characters start to work through their situation and react to subsequent discoveries, this early revelation has the potential to render these discoveries insignificant. In the best films of this type, all details are equally able to be applied to the larger “mystery” and/or be insignificant red herrings—the reality of such films is constantly shifting because the audience is always reevaluating new evidence in a quest to understand what is actually going on. Coherence spells out too much too early, and it sacrifices its chance to be a truly great movie in the process.

Power out inside the house

The movie stays primarily inside the house for the majority of its running time, a choice that enhances the sense of paranoia and uncertainty in the characters.

At its heart, the movie is about how all the specifics of our lives add up to a whole and what that means. If someone close to you makes a decision to do something terrible, how much more does the action itself matter than their internal capacity to have done so all along? How much is determined by opportunity and circumstance as opposed to genuine personal control? None of these are especially new or unique questions, and there are a number of better films out there that utilize equally minimal but more profound approaches to play with this flexible notion of reality.

That said, this is still an incredibly effective, engaging experience—and I even think there may be an extra level to the film's structure slipped in slyly by director James Ward Byrkit and his editor that could upend what seems like a relatively clear conclusion at the story's end. If it weren't for films like Primer, Timecrimes, and Another Earth (to name a small, select few) that are dealing with similar questions in more daring and effective ways, Coherence may be one of the best movies of the year. As it stands, it's probably one of the year's best feature debuts, which is not nothing.

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Tail - CoherenceCoherence (2014)

Directed by James Ward Byrkit.
Screenplay written by James Ward Byrkit.
Starring Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, and Nicholas Brendon.

Posted by Kyle Miner

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