Coherence
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Coherence

One of the aspects of science-fiction that has always intrigued me the most is its ability to transcend the mundane laws that govern reality and craft stories out of pure imagination. This permits a good sci-fi story to offer commentary on the state of humanity vantage point not limited to within it. There is always been a contingent of storytellers that excel stories of this nature with a tendency to go big, creating blockbuster films that push the current boundaries special effects. As a person who’s been a fan of science-fiction. Since I was able to pick up an old battered paperback and become introduced to such names as Bradbury, Heinlein and Asimov. Some of the best stories they produced not so much ethic and scope, but rather somewhat compact and character driven. Thoughts of these grandmasters of the genre revoked in my mind quite independent film that unfortunately many may have overlooked, ‘Coherence’. Even more remarkable is the fact that the man who provided the screenplay and the stylistic direction is making his feature film debut with this opus, James Ward Byrkit. Over the years I have seen literally thousands of films with a significant portion of them science-fiction. In all that time I am hard-pressed to recall being not only so impressed by the sheer craftsmanship of this movie, but how it juxtaposes entertainment with a thought-provoking concept that is certain to be a subject of conversation for a very long time. The accomplishment made by this filmmaker demonstrates that you do not need a budget in the nine figure range to attract and subsequently hold the attention of the audience. The entire principal photography time afforded to this project was listed as a single workweek, five days with much of the dialogue improvised by a cast able to really delve into the emotional and psychological state of their characters. In this fashion, Mr. Byrkit is more like a conductor of a grand symphony; guiding and directing the various performances, helping them to achieve excellence on the individual level and blend together with an amazing synergy.

One technique that is always proved most beneficial when telling a story that depends on the audience accepting that which is beyond the realm of reality, it is best to first provide a foundation that can be readily identified with. This is precisely how this film begins. Three couples, Emily (Emily Baldoni) and Kevin (Maury Sterling), Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), Amir (Alex Manugian) and Laurie (Lauren Maher) attend a dinner party at the house of their friends Mike (Nicholas Brendon) and Lee (Lorene Scafaria). We’ve all been in such pleasant social settings gathering together with friends of fine food and good company. That is just what these eight people were anticipating but, if that was to happen to should be a very short tale indeed. While traveling to the dinner, Emily is cell phone loses reception, culminating with the screen, shattering. Unaccustomed to such spontaneous self-destruction, she blames it on a comet that the news mentioned would be passing by. Understandably, this becomes the first topic of conversation amongst the guests. It is noted that about a century ago a similar comment passed the earth, resulting in reports a very peculiar phenomenon. Such a notion is readily dismissed until they notice that on their phones have undergone a similar fate. Hugh is upset that he can’t contact his brother, who happens to be a physicist. He had warned that the comment may present some unusual effects. Suddenly, the house loses all power which is responded to by lighting candles and fetching a box filled with blue glow sticks. Checking outside the house, they notice that the entire neighborhood has been affected by the blackout. That is, that the exceptions of one house seemingly a few blocks away. Hugh and Amir decide to walk over to the source of light, in hopes that they have a working telephone as well. While they are gone, my manages to get the house’s emergency generator working restoring power to the home. When Hugh and Amir returned to the house, Amir is carrying a box and Hugh has been injured, the cut to the forehead. Since the box had been taken from the mysterious house to begin to rummage through it for clues of what is going on. The content only deepens the mystery; a Ping-Pong paddle and photographs of all of them with numbers written on the back. What is more upsetting is that the photos obviously taken that evening Emily recognizes the handwriting of the numbers as her own. They decide that their best option is to return to the house; Mike, Laurie, Emily, and Kevin are chosen to make the trip. Upon arriving, they peer through the window and are starting with what they see. The house they are looking into is exactly the same as the one they just left. The group turns and hastens back to the original house. On the way, they pass themselves having a red glow sticks returning to the alternate house.

They tried their best to make sense of what is happening when Beth remembers that she left something back in the car. The book on by her brother-in-law, the physicist, containing notes of a lecture he was about to give. The topic of the dissertation was in the mysterious realm of quantum physics, specifically the many worlds hypothesis. According to that theory, there are many alternate universes coexisting in different quantum dimension. This does offer an explanation for what they have just witnessed, that each house exist in its own universe with slight differences between them, such as the color of the glow sticks. They hope the situation will be resolved once the comment has completed its pass of the earth. The group begins to contrive various scenarios for how they can proceed. Mike, half-jokingly suggest killing the ‘red’ group to ensure their own survival. In order to keep track of which house they are in by using a die to select random numbers to place on the back of the photos. Abandoning his murderous thoughts, my comes up with a new plan; leave a note in the other house blackmailing his alternate self into bringing the physics book through them. He seeks to accomplish this by threatening to reveal the fact that he has been having an affair with Beth.

Continuing with the synopsis at this point would be grossly unfair not only to the audience, but the artist who constructed this film. Besides, the story has a sufficient number of twists and turns that it is best to experience them in the chosen format eschewing reading about them. It was a very wise decision on the part of the filmmaker to initiate the story with such a familiar setting and circumstances. As the story unfolds the very fabric of time-space folds back on itself with exceptionally imaginative results that blur reality within the context of the film. This is taken to lengths that extend past the confinement of the movie. If you notice, there is a striking similarity between the names of the actors in the characters and the characters they portray. With much of the dialogue improvised, the well-defined line that usually separates real life and the story becomes extremely tenuous. It would have been very easy for this story under the guidance of lesser artistic ability to unravel into an incongruous mess. Fortunately, Mr. Byrkit possesses a rare and wonderful sense of imagination, so that he is able to hold the converging storylines together into something that is quite entertaining. More than that, this film challenges your idea of what is reality. Alternate universes have been a theme in science-fiction for many years. Only recently, but the great strides being made in quantum physics to such an idea seriously considered by physicist on the cutting edge of the fields. By planting this idea in your mind, it lingers there, tugging out what you thought you knew about reality.

It takes a cast of considerable ability to pull off an achievement such as this. After being given a fundamental outline of the story, it was up to each actor to turn the character on the page into a fully believable human being. Inevitably, most of these actors will be familiar to much of the audience; at least you will recognize their faces. They have been involved in a number of films and television series and have each been journeyman character actors for some time. Ms. Gracen was a regular in the popular fantasy show ‘Highlander’, going on to a spinoff of our own. Mr. Sterling has had recurring roles in both the political thriller ‘Homeland’ in the recent science-fiction series ‘Extant’. Each member of this principle cast has had years of experience behind them and are each able to slip into their characters with ease. This is not only a film that deserves to be seen, but it is one that you will want to revisit several times. The story is so well textured that you are certain to glean additional details each time you watch it.

bulletFeature length audio commentary with writer/director James Ward Byrkit, writer/actor Alex Manugian, actor Emily Foxler
bulletBehind the scenes of "Coherence" featurette with the cast and crew
bulletOriginal camera test film footage with comments by director James Ward Byrkit
bulletTheatrical trailer

Posted 01/21/2015

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