Thursday, August 28, 2014

COHERENCE Is a Creepy Trip to the Darkest Timeline


- Who doesn't love some good Twilight Zone-esque sci-fi? If that's your jam, then I'd strongly recommend giving COHERENCE a shot. This small-budget indie flick mostly skipped theaters, going straight to VOD and digital platforms like iTunes. But the film is a great example of how a story can be made to feel big and awe-inspiring - even with a low-budget - thanks to clever storytelling. Like a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, the movie works by presenting us with a fascinating yet disquieting premise, and then building on that premise via some well-placed twists and turns. I found COHERENCE to be genuinely unnerving and disturbing at times, and it's the rare sci-fi flick these days that can achieve that.

The movie tells the story of a group of friends getting together for a dinner party. They're a diverse bunch, and there's clearly a lot of shared history (and some lingering drama) between them. The interpersonal stuff is where the movie tends to go a little off-the-rails, but I'll get to that in a bit. The real meat of the premise is this: a comet passes overhead in the night sky, and weird things begin to happen. More specifically, the barriers between dimensions, between realities, begin to break down. And suddenly, the house where the friends are gathered is surrounded by other versions of the same house - inside of which are other versions of the same friends. As paranoia grows - as the friends begin to doubt if the others inside the house with them are the originals - or malicious, darkest-timeline versions - things start to get really interesting and really freaky. The film does a great job of drawing out the sense of existential dread and chaos that might accompany the breakdown of the very fabric of reality as we know it.

So yeah, the movie gets into some serious Inspector Spacetime territory, but the nice surprise here is how smartly the concept is dealt with. The characters actually talk about science in a way that well-educated people might, and so the movie has an air of credibility that others don't. Sure, a lot of this is pure sci-fi (what exactly does the comet passing overhead have to do with other dimensions?), but there was some definite thought put into all of of this. The result is a movie that feels downright creepy at times. The look and feel of the film creates a you-are-there intimacy, and so there's an unreal air of reality to the proceedings. It's a classic set-up - the ghost story that isn't just a ghost story. Friends joking about power outages and strange sightings and assorted weirdness, only to discover that this isn't a joke - it's all really happening. Reality is unfolding. There's that real sense of existential dread - the very laws of the universe no longer apply, and man, that's scary $#%&. Credit writer/director James Ward Byrkit with really exerting a strong vision here, and really crafting this great, ominous atmosphere.

COHERENCE does a really nice job of building that sense of dread and paranoia and posing questions about who's who and who or what can be trusted. Mostly. Where it falters a bit is that it shoehorns in a lot of interpersonal melodrama in order to heighten the tension and provide characters with motivation to act irrationally and stir the pot. The biggest perpetrator of this is the character played by Nicholas Brendon of Buffy fame. He's the catalyst for a lot of the bad stuff that goes down in the film, but that's only the case because he starts acting - sort of out of the blue - like a complete lunatic. All of these characters are entitled to a freak out or two - after all, multiple realities are converging around them. But, the movie gets a bit silly at times when its characters go full soap-opera star in order to drive the plot forward.

That said, the thing that really pulls COHERENCE back from the brink is the excellent performance of Emily Baldoni, in the lead role of Em. What the film does a really great job of is making Em a more nuanced character than some of her friends - slyly planting the seeds for the surprising manner in which her arc unfolds. Baldoni does a fantastic job here, and does a great job of matching the movie's overall tone of slowly-building tension with her character's own growing worry and desperation. When the film focuses in on Em, it shines.

While the movie is uneven in spots, overall I appreciated how much it affected me and kept me engrossed despite its relatively small scale. You've got to like science fiction that's compelling not because of flashy f/x, but because of the power of its ideas. And COHERENCE has some pretty primal, powerful ideas at its core. This is a pretty admirable trip to The Twilight Zone that's well worth a look.

My Grade: B+

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