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Review: Indie Sci-Fi Mind-Bender ‘Coherence’ A Short Film Idea Lost In A Feature Length Movie

Review: Indie Sci-Fi Mind-Bender 'Coherence' A Short Film Idea Lost In A Feature Length Movie

There’s an unspoken agreement in genre
films that, whenever a situation reaches peak existential terror, the
protagonists can be forgiven for behaving in a way that seems
unconscionable. No one ever speaks to that shift in mentality, which
troubles in two ways: One, because these movies often don’t have the
time or intellectual resources to observe issues of morality. And
two, troubling, because there is an element of wish fulfillment in
even the bleakest entertainments, the idea that we can solve some of
our problems simply by grabbing a weapon and firing.

The sci-fi “Coherence,” uneasily explores that valley of rash
behavior that movie characters frequently occupy, grounding it in an
upsetting truth that suggests these types of pictures are powered by
self-loathing. James Ward Byrkit‘s directorial debut is a mind-bender
in the vein of “Cube,” beginning with the seemingly-innocuous
set-up of a group of professionals meeting for a dinner party where
resentment is at a low boil. Passive-aggressive compliments are
backhandedly tossed around the table as these individuals talk about
their careers, or lack thereof. Nicholas Brendon of “Buffy The
Vampire Slayer
” is the most established of these actors, and when
his character announces he was the star of a mildly popular nineties
show, the group doesn’t recognize it. It is “Roswell.”

Each conversation fails to acknowledge
who these people are, with these friends each pointing out where they ‘could’ be. One failed to chase her dream. Another bungled a love
affair. There are drugs in the air, and they all speak ominously of
late-arriving troublemaker Laurie (Lauren Maher). Before these
conflicts can bubble over, and shortly (and conveniently) after some
pseudo-scientific chit-chat about meteorites, the electricity goes
out. Byrkit’s handheld, herky-jerky approach during the dinner scenes
brings discomfort to the audience, creating the feeling that you’re
another guest at another obnoxious late-Generation-X dinner party.
But once the lights go out, the effect startles. Now the commotion
disrupts both your sensibility and your line of vision. When everyone
scrambles, you are compelled to sit up.

This is one of those upscale
neighborhoods in the hills, so when someone says the neighbor has
electricity, it’s a trek to find out. Only some characters embark
upon the journey, while others remain, allowing their petty resentments to
stew. But into the abyss, something returns. To say much more would
be spoiling it, but there is much talk and action regarding
theoretical science, doppelgangers, meteorite sightings and murder.
Schrodinger’s Cat is brought out and given another walk around the

The central mystery is compelling, and
Byrkit manages to dole out clues, information and twists with an
economy and ingenuity no longer seen in bigger budgeted films. Yes,
Spider-Man can swing, but “Coherence” generates more electricity
simply with a glance at a red glow stick. More importantly,
“Coherence” works not because of what is unseen, but because of
what isn’t done: the threat of violence hovers all over these
characters, as if career conversation has left them impotent, and
this temporal confusion has given them the proper motivation to
clutch a baseball bat.

Unfortunately “Coherence” keeps
returning to these interpersonal conflicts in a way that distracts
from the story. It feels like this is a short film idea stretched to
feature length, and the padding doesn’t work. An acceptable problem,
despite the fact that the cliffhanger ending is unearned, and a good
extra five to ten minutes would have stuck the landing. “Coherence”
mainly feels speculative, like a proof-of-concept reel meant to
stand-in for a finished project. As the mystery unravels, you learn
that “Coherence” is based in one fantastical sci-fi principle.
You just wish pursuing this principle involved forsaking another
sub-”Big Chill” reunion. [C+]

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