★★★ / ★★★★
A group of friends gather for a dinner party that happens to coincide with a passing of Miller’s Comet—an event that last occurred about a century ago. During the passing, scientists warned the possibility of cell phone receptions being unavailable for a time. Most unexpected, however, is a blackout which sends eight friends into a panic. Their senses are further heightened when they suspect that there might be an ominous force at play, starting with a house located two blocks away. The men wish to investigate.
The joy of “Coherence,” written and directed by James Ward Byrkit, is in knowing very little about the plot and not being able to guess where it is going. It offers an unpredictable ride despite a standard but engaging dialogue among characters with big personalities. I was pleasantly surprised that it takes a concept and is willing to stretch it to such an extent but not result to easy and convenient splatter-fest during the third act.
I enjoyed listening to the characters speak even though some of the personalities are a bit off-putting or trying a bit hard to come across as more polished than they are. In a way, each of them is grounded in reality—necessary because things are about to get very weird. Most of the exchanges are realistic because, for example, the memories they bring up are detailed and specific. When one speaks, others pay attention and feelings are usually reflected or reciprocated just like in a group of friends that have known each other for a long time. It is important we believe these people would want to hang out with each other for a couple of hours.
The mystery relies on the blackout and characters going in and out of the house. We try to determine what exactly is taking place as the characters find strange objects like a silver box containing photographs of themselves with numbers written underneath the pictures. The thing is, the box is found and taken from the house that is under suspicion. More bizarre is the fact that one of the photographs appears to be taken just a few minutes before. Is someone spying on them from outside?
Even though it involves (pseudo) theoretical and quantum physics, the ambitious screenplay is never frustrating. We never feel like it is trying to be too smart for the audience and that is the sole reason why it must be impressive. This is because the writer-director understands that the audience must be provided an answer before more questions are asked. Thus, although the material requires a bit of thinking to fully appreciate what is unfolding, it is accessible, entertaining, and fun. There is talk about aliens and even Schrödinger’s cat.
A critical weak point is the final ten minutes. The non-ending does not match the confident, energetic, daring preceding minutes. I found it to be a bit of a cheat and somewhat unsatisfying even though I understood that its aim is to provide a final surprise. There are numerous twists throughout the film already that perhaps a more defined ending could have made a stronger statement for this piece.
“Coherence” is evidence that creativity and budget are not positively correlated. Perhaps the only visual effect is seeing the comet glide through the sky. The rest of the magic is embedded in the realistic dialogue, solid performances, controlled camera movements capable of matching a sense of urgency, well-placed glances and pauses, and our very own thoughts about how we might react if we were in the twilight zone.