Coherence is a twisting, thrilling, low budget sci-fi that shows that sometimes less is more when it comes to the genre.
As CGI and technology get more advanced, the stories and twists and turns of sci-fi movies get more epic in scope and complicated in plot. However, once in a while a movie comes along that proves less is more. Take Upstream Color or Ex Machina. They are small movies with big ideas. And while Coherence doesn’t quite reach the heights of either of those movies, it gets close. Just like the comet that sets off this entire mess. But before we get to that, we are introduced to eight friends having a dinner party.
Now, the last time I watched a movie about friends having a dinner party, it didn’t end well. But what made that movie — Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation — so great is that it held its cards close to its chest for as long as possible. Delving deeply into the plot will be a disservice to you. So, I’m going to tread lightly and warn you that no matter what, don’t watch the trailer. The main topic of conversation at this dinner party — hosted at Lee (Lorene Scafaria) and Mike’s (Nicholas Brendon) house — is a comet that is due to pass over the earth that very night. Em (Emily Baldoni) educates the group about the Tunguska Event — an actual occurrence — and various other comets that caused odd events in history. It sets an eerie tone in the evening. It doesn’t stop Em from feeling awkwardness over the presence of Laurie (Lauren Maher), a woman her boyfriend Kevin (Maury Sterling) dated or Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) from complaining about the negative feng shui of the space. However, when the lights go out and cell phones stop working, so do all rules of what they once knew to be true.
While the entire neighborhood is shrouded in darkness, they notice that a few blocks down a single house still has electricity. Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Amir (Alex Manugian) volunteer to go to the house and see if they have a landline they can use. When they return, a little shaken up, they have a box with photos of all the guests at the dinner with a random number written on the back and a ping pong paddle. Even more mysterious, the numbers are written in Em’s handwriting.
Made for just $50,000 dollars and shot in five night, Coherence is pretty much the exact opposite of any sci-fi blockbuster nowadays. Taking place over one night and in one house, it uses characters and big concepts to drive the story. And like any movie where seemingly impossible things happen to normal people, a huge part of the story is spent trying to grasp what is happening and let go of their former reality. What makes Coherence shine is the way the character interact with the situation they’re in. How would you react if everything you’ve ever known turns out to be a lie? Moviegoers not as open to the mind-twisting movies will latch on to this. For genre lovers, Coherence is a puzzle to solve that lays out clues not dissimilarly from Shane Caruth’s Primer. It’s almost as if it begs to be watched again and again to see what you missed along the way.
A frequent comparison has been made to The Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” If you haven’t watched this episode, stop and watch it. It’s probably one of the most iconic episodes of the series and, to be frank, is just great television. What makes the episode so great is that it’s relatively simple in plot compared to much of the series. The lights go out on a street in Anywhere, USA and causes confusion, panic, and suspicion among the neighbors. However, in the end, it’s a social experiment. How do we react when something unexplained and extraordinary happens? Who do we trust? Who do we become? That’s what Coherence is concerned with. It’s one of the few human sci-fi movies.
In all, Coherence tells a story we’ve seen before, but it’s told in a way that makes you think and feel. That’s rare when it comes to sci-fi. Few movies in the genre lately have been able to do that. Despite minimal effects and taking place over a single night in a single setting, the movie is incredibly entertaining from beginning to end. And while the improvised dialogue hurts the movie as does one-dimensional characters — save for Nicholas Brendon’s Mike — the concept and plot are able to make up for it.