In James Ward Byrkit’s indie sci-fi thriller Coherence, a seemingly ordinary dinner party amongst long-time friends (Nicholas Brendon, Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling and Elizabeth Gracen, to name a few) goes horribly awry after a passing comet causes a disturbance in the natural balance of existence, revealing dark secrets, challenging everyone’s perception of space and time and ultimately altering the universe as they know it.
A no-budget, mind-bending exercise in the fragility of human relationships with a bit of quantum physics thrown in to really get you thinking, Coherence is thoughtful and well-made thriller with a hint of mystery to it that simmers nicely below the surface from start to finish. As Byrkit reveals tiny hints and clues, his story also has a bit of fun with the space-time continuum, leaving his characters left to figure out just which reality they actually belong to. For the most part Byrkit and his intricate story succeed as Coherence gets better and better as it unfolds even if the pacing does suffer a bit from a bloated second act that doesn’t seem to do much but spin its wheels.
While the film’s overall logic may be a bit murky at times, Coherence ends up crossing the finish line strong after it lets its characters get a little down and dirty and gives audiences a fun head-scratcher of an ending that I really enjoyed. There’s something to be said for sci-fi films that dare to do something different and for whatever minor missteps Coherence may make along the way, the ambition and inventiveness at work in the film more than make up for it.
Coherence is firmly anchored by a talented ensemble with a lot of chemistry who give uniformly top-notch performances, providing the film with a modest Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Big Chill type of energy. There’s also a casualness to what we see from the cast performances which lends itself nicely to the material and feels authentic considering the dinner party setting for the story. Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Brendon is probably one of the more recognizable names in Coherence and does an excellent job of shedding away any Xander Harris remnants that long-time fans may still be holding onto. It’s also worth noting that Baldoni, who ends up becoming our eyes and ears during the latter parts of the film, is truly the MVP of Coherence, especially once she begins to put all the pieces together and is forced to make some difficult decisions.
Something else I really admired about Coherence was the fact that Byrkit dared to go against the grain in almost every conceivable way he could in terms of making a “marketable” and “profitable” horror/thriller movie. Instead, Byrkit gives us a sophisticated, thought-provoking thriller that chooses to use suspense and atmosphere to draw you in rather than rely on cheap jump scares or a cast of 20-somethings who are just looking to get a blurb for their resume. There’s some real filmmaking at play in Coherence and the unusual choices Byrkit makes with the film mostly works to its advantage.
While more finicky viewers may not have the patience to wait out a ton of exposition or want to deal with trying to make sense of some of rather complex and heady quantum physics concepts, there are many rewards to be found in Coherence for the sci-fi fans out there who are looking for something a bit different than what we’ve been seeing in the genre lately. And even though I didn’t flat out love everything about it, there really is a lot to like about Byrkit’s approach, which has the ability to immediately grab your attention and keep you constantly guessing about which way the story is going to go until the very end.
Movie Score: 3.5/5