Science-fiction cinema, and honestly much of “genre” cinema, has become fodder for some of the year’s biggest blockbusters, ranging from the ever growing Marvel Universe pictures, to the various remakes of classic horror masterpieces. However, these big budget, partially due to that very, overgrown collection of funds, rarely ever hits as anything more than aesthetic bombast. Simply overlooking much of the human core, the world of genre cinema is at its most fruitful when the budgets are low, constraints high and focus centered squarely on character.
And thankfully, in the middle of this typically noisy summer film season, a new low-budget, low-fi science fiction thriller has arrived to change that.
Entitled Coherence, the film comes to us from writer/director James Ward Byrkit, and is a decidedly twisty look at a common idea in the realm of science-fiction.
Ostensibly a riff on the type of story one would find in any of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone, Byrkit’s picture finds a group of eight friends brought together for a seemingly run-of-the-mill dinner party. As we begin to learn about each relationship found among these eight men and women, these four couples, we also discover that it’s the night of a much talked about astronomical event. Things begin to unravel as these relationships, and each person’s own sanity, are tested to points rarely seen.
At its very best, Coherence is neither sci-fi thriller nor tight relationship picture. Inherently about the idea of human free will and how even the smallest of choices has led us to any given moment in our lives, Byrkit’s film is a taut and low-budget meditation on things ranging from fate to the ability for a person to, him or herself, to create various personas that one only shows to specific people. At the film’s height, it’s more than your standard genre picture. A character study and a real bit of cinematic experimentation, this picture will feed any science-fiction hound’s appetite.
Aesthetically, the film is quite entrancing. Low level in the most delicious of ways, the film never expands, truly, outside of the dinner party, and only in its final act do things get a tad unwieldy. The opening “act” introduces us to these characters and their connections to one another through short snippets of conversations, with the natural lighting and digital photography only heightening the energy of the proceedings. Typically intimate and thrillingly off-the-cuff, the production is a rather intriguing one, finding no script to speak of, only note cards given to each actor, each day, during the five day shoot. This could make for a cumbersome or frenetic film, but instead it only amps up the film’s uncanny sense of unease and confusion. Maybe it came to be because of circumstances, but the lack of a script here really helps the picture and makes for a vital and energetic film.
That said, the performances don’t really elevate too high here. Emilly Foxler stars here as Em, a dancer who meets her boyfriend, Kevin, played by Maury Sterling. Their relationship is the most dense one here as they are our leads, but their chemistry never really seems to click. One could argue that’s for the best here, given what occurs (spoilers not to be found here), but the central drama here doesn’t come from the relationship drama here, instead being born out of a constant state of confusion and unease. Both do have their moments, and are completely serviceable in the film. Nicholas Brendan co-stars here as Mike, and is the real star here. His own drama, particularly in the final act, is the closest the film gets to real human drama, and his wife played by writer Loren Scafaria is equally great. Toss in performances from Elizabeth Gracen, Alex Manugian, Hugo Armstrong and Lauren Maher, and you have a solid cast that fits this picture quite well.
In a world where science-fiction films continue to get bigger and less interesting, it’s about damn time a film takes an experimental look at an idea that has been the basis for some of the genre’s greatest works. A solid genre effort, this should be hunted down by any and every genre hound as soon as it rolls into their town.