OK, Coherence. What is it? Well, according to the Wikipedia, it’s many things, in fields such as mathematics, physics, statistics, music theory, computer science and more. It’s also a film, released in 2013, shot on a very small budget by James Ward Byrkit, which is at once so odd and so successful that I don’t even want to tell you anything about it. Seriously. It’s compelling and good and unexpected and you should probably just go and see it before we talk about it any more.
But I will talk about it more, because I do feel kind of compelled to convince you that it’s worth your time and energy to watch it. Now, if you scour on-line reviews, you’ll find a lot of people talking about how the movie was made. And it is interesting: shot over five nights by director Byrkit in his own living room, featuring a group of actor-friends of his who had never met before, basically unscripted (although clearly tightly plotted) and largely improvised. But all of this is secondary to the film itself. Just as the problems behind the camera mean nothing to the audience (that is, me) in terms of explaining why a film might be bad, so to an interesting process is basically irrelevant unless the goods wind up on the screen.
And with Coherence, they do. The unusual filming process doesn’t seem to negatively impact upon the story or characters at all, and positively results in naturalistic scene development that you don’t normally see. The resulting movie is tense, gripping, scary, and completely engaging. It’s also a bit confusing – the characters are confused, the audience is confused, but the film makers seem to know exactly what they are doing.
The film’s story centres around eight fairly ordinary people – four couples – who happen to be having a dinner party together on the night that a particular comet is passing at its closest point to earth. Suddenly, as the guests are having a variety of little interpersonal conflicts, there is a blackout. Outside, they see that this has effected the entire street – except for one house about two blocks away that seems to have power. And so some of them choose to investigate…
All right, that’s it. I’m not saying any more about the particulars of the plot. I’ll just say that it moves and dances in unexpected yet satisfying ways. I read somewhere that the film has a big twist, and so it does; but it’s the kind of film that doesn’t pack all its weight into a single punch. Instead of giving the audience an experience where it’s all wrapped up in one dramatic revelation (eg. “Oh, he’s actually dead!” or “Oh, she’s actually a man!” or “Oh, he’s actually the killer!”), Coherence continually unfolds its world over the whole movie, drawing the viewer in deeper with one reveal after another, each time making us think we have a handle on what’s going on, but each time leaving us both startled and satisfied when the next piece of the puzzle is put in place.
That’s not an easy feat. But Coherence pulls it off. The fact that it comes also with an interesting real-life backstory is just icing on the cake.
Are there any negatives? Well, there is a moment toward the end that feels to me to be a bit needlessly vague. And there’s a fair amount of swearing (something I am not a fan of). But I found these things pretty easy to tolerate or even forgive in light of the film’s strengths.
So have I convinced you to watch it yet? Come on, it’s only 90 minutes long, and you can rent it off iTunes for just a few dollars. I really think it’s worth it.