Never trust a comet – it’s as simple as that – if they aren’t blinding people ala Day of the Triffids they’re turning the population into red dust or mutants vis-à-vis Night of the Comet, but in James Ward Byrkit’s directorial debut the nature and effects of the comet are of a more subtle and insidious nature. Coherence is a clever independent film, one that dabbles in the realm of metaphysical ideas and quantum mechanics, but as the cast of characters are just your average suburbanites we see such themes through the eyes of horror and paranoia.
Written and directed by James Ward Byrkit the film Coherence is more of an “improv theatre experience” than it is an intricately plotted science fiction tale, as the actors received no script and they’d get notes each night based on each of their characters, and it would be up to Byrkit to guide the ensemble based on the treatment he had developed. Shot in continuity over five nights, at Byrkit’s home, the story of Coherence deals with eight people coming together for a dinner party on the night of a mysterious comet passing, and how the effects of said passing enfold. The group of actors Byrkit assembled for his film are mostly known for roles on various television shows, Nicholas Brendon being the most recognizable, but it’s the lack of big-name stars which gives the movie that air of reality, and thus the added science fiction elements become easier to digest as well by making them a little more grounded.
The crux of the story is that a dinner party is interrupted by a power failure caused by the passing of a comet, the inability to use their cellphones or the internet adding trouble to the situation, but then a house two blocks away is seen to be the only place with lights still on, and so two of the guests decide to investigate. It’s at this point one can see how Byrkit was inspired by Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, as the arguing and fighting that follows is very reminiscent of the episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” and as the story of Coherence unfolds we get a glimpse of who the real monsters are.
“Who goes there?” is a major theme here.
The science-fiction hook here is that it’s discovered that the house down the street is populated by the same eight dinner guests that we’ve already met and that somehow the comet’s passing has fractured reality and whenever someone heads down the street they pass through a “Dark Zone” and cross over into one of many alternate realities. The key issue that plagues our “heroes” is in trying to figure out if the people in the room with you are from “your” reality or if in fact, you’ve wandered into a different one. This of course leads to more infighting and rampant paranoia, as people run in and out of the house for one insane reason or another, and then wondering if those coming back are the same ones who left. We get cool moments such as one person writing a note to pin on the door of the “other” house, but before they get a chance to they hear a noise outside and discover that very same note already pinned on to the door. At one point they recover a cryptic box from the “other” house that is full of photographs of the guests, who took them is unknown, but more disturbing than the idea that they may have a stalker is that the handwriting on the back of the photos matches that of a guest named Emily (Emily Baldoni), who is the character that slowly transforms into the film’s chief protagonist.
“Trust me, I’m not an evil doppelganger.”
This is a smart film, and its improv nature only works because it follows a very strong treatment written by Byrkit, one that tackles some pretty heavy metaphysical shenanigans, but it is not without flaws, as some of the character reactions are less than believable; case in point Nicholas Brendon’s character wanting to murder the other versions of themselves based on almost no evidence that these “others” are an actual threat. This leap to violent paranoia happens a little too fast, and murder seems a bit too harsh of a way to solve a mystery. This is the kind of thing that can be expected when you have eight actors working without a script, so that can be forgiven, but as a whole, the cast is quite excellent and when the film reaches its conclusion we are treated to a philosophical quandary that has the viewer wondering “What would I have done in that situation?” Which is more than you get out of your average science fiction movie these days. I highly recommend this one.
James Ward Byrkit’s dark science fiction tale is something fans of such films as Primer and Predestination will certainly enjoy and it’s more proof that you can still tell a crazy story on a surprisingly low budget.