The Horror Honeys: Welcome to the Trippiest Dinner Party... EVER

Welcome to the Trippiest Dinner Party... EVER

A Sci-Fi Honey Review by Katie

Coherence (2014)

In the golden year of sci-fi that was 2014, there was a profusion of genre films to choose from, just varied enough to suit all tastes: from big budget, action-heavy popcorn flicks to thought-provoking indie marvels, it was a year where virtually any sci-fi experience you wanted could be achieved. There was so much first-rate sci-fi in 2014, in fact, that one film ultimately got lost in the shuffle. Making its way onto a handful of “best of 2014” lists is a film that until now managed to slip under my radar unnoticed, having appeared at various film festivals before quietly enduring a limited theatrical release in June of last year. The feature film debut of director James Ward Byrkit, Coherence is a veritable masterclass in low-budget filmmaking, depicting subject matter as intricate and dense as parallel universes with not a single flashy special effect. It’s a small but expertly crafted piece of cinema that deserves greater attention as we move into a year overstuffed with box office-dominating franchises.

The film takes place largely in a single room, with a cast of only eight: as friends gather for a dinner party, they discuss the intricacies of their relationships, anecdotes about life, and – oh, yeah – that there’s a massive and rare comet passing through the Earth’s atmosphere that evening. While the comet soars through the night sky, odd things begin to occur: smartphone screens inexplicably shatter, the electricity goes on and off, and there are startling knocks on the door and notes left by mysteriously familiar visitors. The group splits up to seek help, and instead encounter something they could never have fathomed. From here, the plot circles around and becomes increasingly involved, until you find yourself trying to count which version of a character or sequence of events you find yourself in. Like Christopher Smith’s dizzyingly loopy Triangle (2009), the fun is not in ultimately figuring out who belongs where, but by surrendering to the wonderfully byzantine nature of alternate/parallel universe stories.

This dining room table is basically the Bermuda Triangle. Cheers!

The most intriguing aspect of this film echoes a concept brilliantly fleshed out in a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street:" that humans, given the right circumstances, are capable of destroying themselves from internal conflict without much instigation from something external. In that episode, cutting power to all houses but one on a neighborhood block generated enough anxiety and paranoia between neighbors that it wasn’t long before they engaged in heated (and sometimes deadly) disputes. Coherence ratchets up the tension by starting off small – someone’s smartphone cracks, and then later it is miraculously fixed – to slowly build suspicion in the minds of the party guests as well as the viewer.  

And don’t trust that girl. Or that guy. In fact, trust no one.

As the film wears on, Coherence sometimes teeters on the edge of being so convoluted that it threatens to collapse under the weight of its own lofty ideas. What makes it enjoyable, however, is the believable camaraderie between the film’s close-knit group of performers (Nicholas Brendon of TV’s Buffy and Maury Sterling of Homeland, to name a couple), and Ward Byrkit’s naturalistic style of directing. Tackling such an outlandish story with as much realism as possible makes what transpires all the more unsettling.

Confused yet? Don’t worry, you will be!

Like my first favorite film of 2015, the Spierig Brothers’ Predestination, Coherence similarly deals with plotlines from innumerable courses of action – sometimes running simultaneously and sometimes in a loop – while they menacingly threaten to converge. If your mind likes a puzzle, both of these films will be an engaging exercise for your sci-fi brain; just make sure you understand that the title Coherence has some irony to it, and that everything might not make as much sense as you want it to.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four incoherent, brain-scrambling parallel universes out of five.

Coherence is available on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, and on DVD