by Hope Madden
As a writer, James Ward Byrkit has made a name in family films (Rango, Pirates of the Caribbean), but he saved his savviest and most adult work for his debut as a director. Coherence is a lean, intimate SciFi mindbender.
Coherence combines a bit of Inception with the underseen dark comedy It’s a Disaster! A group of friends meets for a low maintenance dinner party, which turns out to be a little more fraught with drama than expected – and that’s before the comet flying overhead knocks out power.
Confused that this outage also affects their cell phones and internet, the group decides to visit the one house on the block with power, only to find a dinner party for 8 shockingly familiar faces.
The nimble (mostly improvised) story remains fresh and surprisingly coherent, even as partygoers delve into theories, cross theories, and hair-brained theoretical musings on multiple realities. Byrkit allows us to grapple with our own disbelief by focusing on his befuddled guests’ incredulity as they attempt to puzzle out the reality (or realities?) of their situation.
And by keeping the focus close – zeroing in more and more on one guest’s evolving perception of events and potential actions – Byrkit develops a sense of intimacy that provides a solid foundation for all the astrophysical nuttiness.
As the dinner guests, the impressive cast portrays the kind of familiarity that breeds drama. Their pre-comet situation feels so familiar and honest that dread settles in even before the lights go out. From there, Byrkit ratchets up tensions with little more than his own ingenuity and the commitment of his cast.
The film is as economical as they come: limited sets, no real FX, no action sequences to speak of. It joins the likes of Under the Skin, Primer and Safety Not Guaranteed in the world impeccable no-frills SciFi.
It isn’t quite at that level, and yet, it’s among the more effective SciFi thrillers to come out this summer. Yes, Snowpiercer and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are more likely to wow you, but the internal logic, fascinating choices and chilling conclusion to Coherence will leave you with just as much to think about.