Coherence, the new film from writer/director James Ward Byrkit, is a smart, intricate puzzle of a movie that could easily be spoiled by a review that offers too much plot summary or too much commentary. It’s a riddle filled with unexpected twists and turns. Consequently, it’s a tricky film to review. I’m even reluctant to compare Coherence to any other films because merely mentioning the titles of its thematic predecessors might give you a hint of what’s to come. So, what follows is a carefully crafted Spoiler Free Zone that leaves the film’s many surprises intact for you to discover on your own.
Four couples assemble for a dinner party. Their respective relationships range from years upon years of marriage to a mere few months of dating. These people have a history with each other that is obvious from their interactions. They have the petty jealousies and emotional baggage that accompany a typical group of friends. It’s a familiar, comfortable environment.
Their gathering happens to coincide with the passing of Miller’s Comet, a bright streak of light that can be seen in the night sky. As the group drinks wine and talks around the dinner table, Emily mentions the history of strange occurrences and odd behavior that can accompany the passing of a comet. Why? No one knows. But these phenomena have been reported for over a century all around the globe. It doesn’t take a savvy viewer to recognize Emily’s comments as the foreshadowing they are … and this is where my discussion of the plot will end.
The real star of Coherence is the intricate script written by James Ward Byrkit. Once the initial surprise of the premise is unveiled, a labyrinthine maze of events ensues. Each twist sends the action in a new, but oddly plausible, direction. Avoid the super-sized Diet Coke during this trip to the theater. If you miss two or three minutes of this film, you may be hopelessly lost. But, your rapt attention will ultimately be rewarded.
Most films of this nature follow a disappointing formula – begin with a normal premise, offer some stunning plot twists to get the audience’s attention and then let all hell break loose in the third act and hope no one notices the film ceases to make any sense at some point along the way. Coherence, on the other hand, maintains an internal logic throughout its running time that binds the events unfolding on the screen. You will try to predict where the narrative is headed, and you will rarely guess correctly. It is terrific cinematic sleight-of-hand, and you’re not going to figure out the trick. I look forward to seeing the film a second time to see if it holds up as well under scrutiny as I believe it does.
The ensemble cast is superb. There isn’t a weak actor or actress to be found. Coherence needs to be grounded in reality for its premise to work, and we’re given a collection of believable performances to anchor these mind-bending developments. With each new revelation, the film could have easily slipped into the absurd if not for the cast’s collective ability to sell these events to the audience.
Coherence was not previously on my indie film radar, and I was fortunate to see it at the Chattanooga Film Festival before its release to the general public. I expected other films on the festival roster like Ti West’s The Sacrament and Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2 to deliver on their cinematic pedigrees. But, Coherence took me totally by surprise. It’s the diamond in the rough that you hope to find at a film festival, but rarely do.
I walked into my screening with no expectations and no real idea what the film was about. I left knowing I will be recommending it to movie-lovers for months to come. Like Miller’s comet slashing through the darkness, Coherence is one of those smart indie thrillers that doesn’t come along very often.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.