Fantastic Fest: ‘Coherence’ is an Excellent, Comprehensible Mess

By  · Published on September 27th, 2013

by Michael Treveloni

There’s nothing that gets a good group of friends riled up more than some bad news. For Emily (Emily Baldoni), the unpleasant scoop is that her boyfriend’s ex, Laurie, will be attending the same dinner party she is en route to. Also en route is a comet set to cruise by the earth and maybe, just maybe, cause a few things to temporarily go awry.

The party gets underway slowly, wine is served, salad is tossed and the mention of some watered-down ketamine is bandied about. By the time everyone arrives, a fog of awkward tension has settled in. Also some cellphone screens have randomly shattered.

Friends cut loose around the dinner table, or about as loose as they can. They’re a fun bunch on the surface but insecurities and condescension hide just below. Emily is a dancer who’s career almost exploded into the big time only to fizzle on the sideline. She just wants to be happy with her boyfriend Kevin who is a bit reserved because of Laurie’s presence. Then there’s the rest; an actor, a new-agey woman, her gruff husband, the couple hosting the shindig and the dude who is currently necking with Laurie. The group gets along like a really whiny, self important version of The Big Chill.

Mike, the actor just wants to act and may have seen his career peek already. New-age woman is new-agey, Laurie is the center of attention and does everything to maintain that. Then there’s the uninvited guest: the comet.

When the power goes out, the group goes looking for answers. There’s a house up the way with power on and so a small party assembles to see if they can use their phone and figure out what’s going on. Things get dicey when they return a few minutes later, one of them slightly bloodied. Other peculiar things begin to happen; knocks at the door with no one there, glasses breaking, voyeurs…creepy stuff for a creepy night. As voices and concerns rise, a discovery is made that changes their lives completely.

The group, who knows everything about each other suddenly face the fact that they may be more like strangers than friends. What’s worse is they may not know themselves as well as they think they do.

Coherence is the kind of film that completely rearranges your brain. It tasks you with keeping tabs on people, places and events, and if you fall behind you’re left out in the cold. That is also why it is excellent. Even if you get lost, its premise is a fun and paranoid one by which to get swept away. As ideas unravel (and there are a lot of them) the gravity of the scenario increases, the impending chaos and confusion resonate in the faces of all involved. Their mistrust is mirrored, in multiple ways, and to watch them work through and rationalize their panic is a maddening thrill.

Movies like this one stand up to a lot of pressure, because there’s really not a mediocre attempt at the genre it plays in. Put together a puzzle like this, and you tend to either sail through or fall flat on your face. Happily, Coherence is the former of such exercises. It injects an idea, one where the characters may not be who they seem, then pits them against one another testing their faith and trust in one another as well as their own fortitude.

Playing off one another exceptionally well, the cast is remarkably grounded for how complicated and bizarre the story is. They seem like real people with real friendships, and watching their relationships erode is as enjoyable as it is excruciating. The true strength of the film is its ability to keep you questioning and thinking ahead, working out what is happening and ultimately fuming over how frustratingly nuts it is.

The Upside: A fevered ride that keeps building on its multi-faceted chaos.

The Downside: The group can be pretty stupid at times.

On the Side: Director James Ward Byrkit provided multiple voices for the film Rango.

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