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New Release Review - Coherence

The passing of a comet has strange consequences for the guests of a dinner party.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: James Ward Byrkit

Starring: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon


In popular culture the arrival of a comet is rarely a cheerful omen. The ancient Chinese put any and all misfortune down to the presence of the big bolide, while Victorians were so shaken by the impending Halley’s Comet that anti-comet sickness pills were sold. In cinema the presence of meteors have been responsible for the advancement of murderous plant life (Day of the Triffids), really bad news in Armageddon, and were also rumoured to be the reason that the deceased reanimated in Night of the Living Dead. Now here is Coherence, where the blazing manifestation of a comet leads to….well, to reveal that particular outcome would be to spoil one of the several thrills and spills that Coherence has in its well-crafted Schrodinger’s box of tricks. Sci-fi, horror, social drama; Coherence is as difficult to categorise as it is dazzling. However, there is no uncertainty principle regarding the quality of the film: with Coherence, writer/director James Ward Byrkit has created 2015’s first must see release.
Coherence’s plot begins in the comfortable middle class home of Mike (Nicholas Brendon) and Lee (Lorene Scafarin), who are in the process of welcoming six similarly affluent pals to a dinner party (another trope that hardly ever turns out well in cinema). As the images of carefully drizzled oils and cleaved avocados, and observations pertaining to the house’s Feng-shui, play out, the guest’s varying degrees of smugness and insecurities are suggested to us. The ease of communication between the actors, their natural on-screen rapport, is a master class in ensemble direction; this group feels authentic and lived in, an essential selling point for the film’s later dramas. Like all groups of old friends, this lot are privy to secret histories and the occasional simmering jealousy; for example, Kevin’s ex Laurie is a ‘vixeny’ newcomer who is now seeing Amir (Alex Manugian), much to the chagrin of his present partner, the pensive, thoughtful Em (Emily Foxler). Brendon (fuller of face, but who has lost none of his boyish charm) plays a resting actor who used to star in actual TV show Roswell; in a brilliant moment of cringe, a guest – the begrudged Laurie - remarks how much she loved that show, but can’t place him, even when its pointed out to her that he was in every broadcast (the playful coincidences to Brendon’s real life iconic role in Buffy add an extra layer of weird when the more metaphysical narrative eventually ensues).
The group’s pleasant small talk about the comet passing and other banalities are given a masterfully unsettling edge due to Byrkit’s intimate, oblique camerawork and Kristin Øhrn Dyrud’s devious score. The tension develops when phone screens begin to shatter spontaneously, communications shut down (the de facto horror consequence for the information age), and, finally, the electricity cuts out, plunging almost the entire street into darkness; except, seemingly, for a single other house, down the street. The downbeat Abigail’s Party vibes conflate with the mind bending twists of Primer as the group venture out to make contact with their neighbours (…or are they?)
The seemingly casual and ostensibly improvised scenarios of the opening dinner party transpire to be precursors of plot points which are as carefully constructed as quantum quarks. This is a film where the smallest action could have universe shattering potentials, and the petty secrets and lies which fracture the group dynamic split to colossal cosmic outcomes. The wily management of narrative and character – their compromised moral choices, the fraught self-interest- is pretty much flawless throughout this tight and suspenseful film, and leads right up to Coherence’s chilling and final twist, with all of that scene’s horrific and mind bending implications.
Coherence will receive a limited UK theatrical run on the 13th February with a DVD release the same week. This is one shooting star not to blink and miss: see it as it soars.




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