I stated in The Blair Witch Project (1999) review that I would also review Coherence for its low-budget brilliance, and that’s really what this film is. Brilliant and hugely underrated.
Any film that can give me goosebumps when utilising such a small set and improvised dialogue, is going to massively impress me. This film was created with a measly budget of $50,000 and sadly only grossed $68,887 as of July 2014. I do hope that James Ward Byrkit has now received the recognition he deserves for this masterpiece.
Sometimes I’ll rave about a film to friends and family and then I’ll go back to watch it and will think “shit, I’ve just embarrassed myself there”, because really, the film turns out to be not so good. I just watched Coherence for the fourth time since its release, to make sure it was fresh in my mind for this review. The hairs still stood up on my arms, I still had chills, it was still intense and anxiety inducing. Even when I knew exactly what was going to happen. Now that’s a great film.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
I had a little perusal of the negative reviews on IMDb, the same theme seems to run through them. “It was only set in a room”, “People were shouting and talking over each other”, “I’m too fucking stupid to get it”. Just kidding…maybe.
I love films that can invoke so much of an emotional reaction without elaborate sets, I love films that can freak me out or get me thinking with just dialogue. On the other hand, I get that this is not to everyone’s taste. I felt the interactions between the characters were very real, what you witness when you are watching the film is much like what you would experience if this was happening to you. When people panic, they shout, they talk over each other, they behave like dicks, they become irrational. And when a group of people get together and weird shit starts happening, people can very easily talk themselves into being scared. The actors nailed this and Alex Manuigan, who also wrote the story, did a great job at steering the conversations to where they needed to go. I wanted to try to stay away from hyperbole, it’s difficult because I do adore this film, so I will delve a little into the plot instead.
Coherence follows Em (Emily Baldoni) as she arrives at a dinner party that her friends are hosting. She is speaking on the phone with her partner Kevin (Maury Sterling) , the line cuts out and her phone screen spontaneously cracks. Almost immediately we can glean that the sub plot is the difficulties in Em’s relationship with Kevin. We learn that Kevin’s ex Laurie (Lauren Maher) is attending with their friend Amir (Alex Manuigan), which Em is clearly distressed about. One of the guests, Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) offers Em some “rescue remedy” which we later discover to be pharmaceutical grade Ketamine. Em refuses. Everyone sits down to eat and begins to discuss the comet that is passing Earth. They discuss how past comets have caused strange occurrences before. The group discover that they don’t have phone signal, Beth’s partner Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) decides he wants to contact his brother, who informed him earlier to contact him if anything strange happens in relation to the comet. They attempt to use the internet but the internet is down also. All the electricity goes out and they realise that the power has been lost to the entire neighbourhood, except for one house. Hugh decides he wants to go over there to use their phone, he leaves with Amir. Amir and Hugh return with a box from the other house and are obviously frightened, when pushed to talk about what happened, Hugh states he thinks he saw other versions of the group. The group open the box to discover numbered pictures of themselves. From this point on everything begins to unravel.
Em: And I remember reading about this one woman who called the police and said, “The man in my house is not my husband. And then police came over and they said, “This is your husband,” and she said, “No. This is not my husband. I killed my husband yesterday.
That’s how I know it’s not him.”
The audience begins to figure out things at the same time as the group, which can be a very powerful method of engaging with the audience. We discover, along with the group, that the comet has caused some sort of rift that has made alternate realities accessible. The characters, once passing through the dark zone, enter an alternate reality and can never return to where they are from. Understandably the characters start to become paranoid, aggressive and accusatory to each other. The only constant in this film is Em, who eventually ends up in a reality that isn’t hers, with alternate versions of her friends. Em decides to take matters into her own hands, not being happy with the versions she is stuck with, she passes through the dark zone repeatedly to seek a better reality.
Coherence is quite a ride, but if you are going to watch it, be prepared for its cerebral and mind-bending subject matter. The only downfall to this film is the cinematography, some of the scenes are out of focus which at times pulled me out of the experience, but it was very easy to be sucked back in to the suspenseful plot. This is what low-budget sci-fi films should be.
Mike: This whole night we’ve been worrying… there’s some dark version of us out there somewhere. What if we’re the dark version?
If you have seen the film and wish to see an easy to comprehend diagram of the characters and their realities you can see that here.