Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review: Coherence

Image courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories 
James Ward Byrkit's "Coherence" is one of the best times I've had being befuddled in recent memory. This is one of those type of low budget sci-fi thrillers for which the word mindbender was invented. It will draw some obvious comparisons to Shane Caruth's acclaimed "Primer," although I personally think Byrkit's movie is better, as well as "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," for those of you familiar with classic "Twilight Zone" episodes.

If there is one slight distracting element to the picture, it's the frequently shaky and slightly low rent hand-held visual style, which occasionally gives a claustrophobic feeling and, at other times, makes for a minor annoyance.

At the film's beginning, a group of friends - four couples to be exact - are having a dinner party at the homes of Mike (Nicholas Brendon, of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame) and Lee (Lorene Scafaria). This party happens to be taking place on the night that a low-flying comet will pass overhead. Several of the characters find large cracks on their smart phones as the comet approaches, leading to a discussion of several reported incidents of strange behavior (memory loss, etc.) during visits by comets throughout history.

Of course, there is already the potential for drama at this party. The film's sort-of heroine Em (Emily Baldoni) is attending the dinner with her beau, Kevin (Maury Sterling), who once dated Laurie (Lauren Maher), who is now attending the party with Amir (Alex Manugian). Also, Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), who is with her husband, Hugh (Hugo Armstrong), brings along a drug similar to a horse tranquilizer that she proposes dropping into their drinks to help everyone relax. Some job woes - Mike's failed acting career and Em's disappointments resulting from a dance career gone to seed - are also at play.

Suddenly, the lights go out. The dinner party lights candles and Hugh and Amir decide to leave the house to find out whether any other homes have internet connection or phone service. They return to report that only one home on their block has the lights on. Things then begin to get very strange.

As it turns out, that well-lit home down the street contains doubles of the exact same characters and the theory of Schrodinger's cat is discussed - that is, if a cat is placed within a box with poison, there are two possible scenarios (the cat is exposed to the poison and dies, the cat is not exposed to the poison and lives) and that both possible outcomes exist at the same time until the box is actually opened.

I could try to explain what happens next, but it would be futile as I'm not sure I actually can. Part of the fun of "Coherence" is trying to piece together what is going on. Are all of the people in the original house the same people who were there to begin with? Are the people who have gone out to explore and returned the same as those who left? Are there more than two houses with the same scenario playing out? And if these characters come into contact with their doppelgangers, what will be the consequences?

This may all sound convoluted, but the filmmakers handle the material well, giving it the necessary amount of gravitas and tension. And it's the human element of the story that makes it more convincing, in my opinion, than the films of Shane Carruth, which I believe feel smart, but are missing an emotional resonance.

I doubt most people will be able to fully explain "Coherence," but I'd be willing to bet they'll have a great time trying.

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