Coherence – A Mind-Bending Sci-Fi Concept Feigned by Mediocrity
James Ward Byrkit’s “Coherence” (2014) consists of a sci-fi subject that has pondered over in the recent years in cinema: the finer points of quantum physics. The movie wants to be a clever sci-fi without relying on special effects. As in many minimalist science fictions, the entire events unfold within a room or a house. The movie was actually filmed in the living room of Byrkit and the actors are his friends – mostly unknown actors who worked in seasoned TV series like “Homeland”, “CSI” and “Mad Men”. First-time director Byrkit has worked as story-board artist for director Gore Verbinski (in “Pirates of Carribean” and “Rango” movies). Byrkit’s “Coherence” gives us the familiar feeling of an old stage play. Friends meet together over a dinner, where secrets and former tribulations threaten to ruin their relationship. However, a crafty and mysterious sci-fi element is added into that setup to give us some WTF moments.
Four couples get together for a pleasant evening of food, wine and talk. They hug, pleasantries are exchanged. Marital tensions are evident with some couples; secrets sizzle in others. Em (Emily Foxer) is the story’s protagonist. She is unsettled, lives with her boyfriend Kevin, who once dated another guest named Laurie. The dinner table is nicely set up with a candle-lit atmosphere. There is friendly chit-chat and few banal digressions, and later Em brings up the subject of all their cell phones going dead.
The mobile’s behavior doesn’t seem to be mystery, as everyone knows that a comet is passing the earth. Few minutes later the internet and electricity goes down. There is no light in the neighborhood, except for one house. Two friends go to chat with those lucky neighbors in that bright big house at the end of the street. However, they return in a freaked-out manner, contemplating the unreal images they saw through that house’s window.
The director does a good job at plotting the characters in to the story’s complex elements. There are talks about ‘Miller’s Comet’ and how its passing over earth affected things like electricity, radio signals, and even human activities. We also hear about the Tunguska Event of 1908 (the comet wiped out miles of Siberian forest). All these historical incidents about comets bring some tension to the proceedings. With a good a layman’s explanation of ‘Schrodinger’s cat’ or ‘quantum decoherence’ the writer and director intrigues us to find out what’s going to happen.
The problem is that we want to find out what’s going to happen because of the mysterious phenomenon; not because we are invested with these characters. The characters’ alternative persona are more traditionally sinister and disengaging. The movie’s premise inquires about once identity when the social barrier falls away, but the stagey contrivances and predictable secrets gives us an irritating feeling towards the end. The film’s minor imperfections glaringly become larger in the final act as the story degenerates into violence and blackmail.
We could forgive the usual bickering individuals with usual relationship tensions. We could overlook their irritating behavior as if power cuts and dead cell phones define the beginning stages of end of the world (we could even forgive that silly ‘physics book’ contrivance). But, it is hard to overlook the way the interesting premise devolves into a noisy portrait of dysfunction with clenched fists. “Coherence” either takes the smart, twisted path of Shane Carruth’s “Primer” or the philosophical, surrealistic path of Von Trier’s “Melancholia” (Bunuel’s “Exterminating Angels” also comes to my mind).
“Coherence” boasts some novel sci-fi twists, although it isn’t a satisfyingly realized movie. It is a good experimental effort by a first-time director with very minimal budget.