Coherence review

Shot over just five nights in writer/director James Ward Byrkit’s own home, Coherence takes a micro-budget dinner party set-up and injects a large dose of science fiction. But it’s not the science talk but the relationships between characters where the film’s really interesting ideas are hidden.

The eight people that come together for dinner in Coherence start out the night with faintly visible cracks in their relationships. These small fissures are first revealed through offhand remarks and subtle looks, but by the end of the evening, they’ve become gaping chasms. The characters have turned against one another, and their in-built differences have led us not only into a lot of drama but to a surprising and highly entertaining plot twist, which, of course, I won’t be spoiling here.

Though it is rather hard to talk about Coherence without revealing something of its direction. The film’s premise isn’t too unlike an episode of The Twilight Zone, with a comet travelling past the earth and seemingly creating minor peculiarities like cracked phone screens and the failure of both internet and power grid. Later, there appear to be some more substantial changes to the space-time continuum.

Byrkit doesn’t seem particularly concerned about how these science fiction ideas actually work or in giving them a basis in reality. If you were to watch Coherence with anyone of a scientific background you would most likely struggle to hear the dialogue over their exasperated sighs and guffaws.

But, despite a significant amount of exposition, Byrkit wisely limits us to only the viewpoints of eight lead characters. As any daft theorising or wonky logic comes from the mouths of these people, there’s an ‘out’ for all of the bad science, and especially as the characters are quite unreliable; Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), for instance, is presented as a risible neo-hippy, obsessed with Feng Shui and echinacea.

It’s easy to get caught up in the characters’ interactions rather than get too bogged down with what exactly is going on. That said, the plot does have some strong propulsive force, provided by a central mystery that the group try to puzzle out. And Byrkit has paced Coherence incredibly well too, with new pieces of information, about both the mystery and the relationships, being revealed at just the right rate to always hold the audience’s attention.

But Byrkit really stumbles with his film’s more formal elements – and it’s not just a slight wobble, it’s more like he’s tripped and fell off a cliff. It’s hard to think of a film that I’ve enjoyed so much but which also drove me crazy with its ugly, constantly distracting cinematography and editing.

The film was shot in a way that was obviously designed to suggest intimacy, but it mostly looks like a bad wedding video. There’s constant re-focusing, poor lighting and a camera that jerks about as if the operator is often struggling to stay on his feet. Cinematographer Nic Sadler shot the film on the fly and very cheaply, but the approach is clearly a deliberate choice – tripods aren’t that expensive – and so Coherence can be a bit of an endurance test at times.

But the extent which one can get sucked into the film’s narrative and character interactions without the aesthetic distractions leading to submission is testament to the way in which Byrkit and co-writer Alex Manugian can weave a compelling story.

Coherence will be released in UK cinemas on February 13th and is already available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD in the US.