Written by James Ward Byrkit & Alex Manugian
Directed by James Ward Byrkit
Emily arrives at a dinner party at a friend’s house where conversation quickly turns to the historic passing of a comet over the United States that evening. Reports are coming out of people’s smartphone screens spontaneously cracking, and one party guest has a brother who is a physicist and warn that strange electromagnetic phenomena could occur. Everything goes wrong with the power shuts off, and the guests notice one house down the road as the only building with any light. Two people go to investigate, and things get stranger and stranger. A lockbox is found at the other house with numbered photos of all the party guests. As tensions rise so does paranoia, and the people gathered that evening begin to turn on each other.
Coherence immediately reminded me of a strange trend in some indie movies of the last few years: The Los Angeles dinner party. We have this set up used in films like The Invitation, The Overnight, and It’s A Disaster. These are all indie films whose main setting is the home of one or more of the characters where they are gathered for a dinner party. In some instances, these are comedies and others more horrific. Coherence is most definitely in the horrific camp.
The table is set by some dinner conversation where chit-chat turns to the comet passing overhead. Emily ends up divulging some exposition on the history of humanity and comet, dropping a mention of the Tunguska event and another middle ages incident with a Russian woman encountering a husband she believed dead the day after a similar event. There’s further discussion about people around this woman seeming to forget whose house they ended up in the morning after.
There are also interpersonal relationships established between the party guests. We learn Emily’s boyfriend, Kevin has an ex-girlfriend, Laurie, who is dating another friend. So all four are going to be at the party. We also learn Beth is a very holistic medicine oriented person and points out the feng shui in their host’s home being all off. When the strangeness kicks off the story works with a steady hand to pull the personal into the fantastic so that the audience feels there are substantial stakes. Without that, the film could devolve into nonsense, not to say it ends up a perfect movie.
Party conversation is often improvised, and it feels like it, these actors are not working at the top of their game in every scene. The very nature of the story demands something a more tightly scripted and plotted. The inhabitants of the other house, and what that means for our characters is a great mind twister, and if the pacing were more focused, the picture could have been phenomenal. Coherence is only 88 minutes long, but there are moments where it pauses a little too much, and I felt myself slipping out of the film.
Where the movie ends up though, is wonderfully dark and recalls a great episode of the Twilight Zone. Characters are forced to do irredeemable things, but because of the nature of their situation, it becomes quickly apparent that few of them will suffer the consequences. I was genuinely surprised by the twists and turns the story took and was generally satisfied with its finale. I doubt Coherence will be a horror movie that haunts your dreams but it’s a fun teaser for your brain.