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Theoretical physics made manifest along with the far less predictable, not to mention more volatile, laws of attraction coalesce in COHERENCE, one of the best science fiction films of the year. It is a ghost story without ectoplasm, and a horror film in which the monsters are people unaware that their dark side is dominant. Chilling, visceral, and yet cerebral in both execution and scope, it needs only its scathingly intelligent writing, incisive grasp of human nature, and a special effects budget that requires little more than glow sticks to make its points. Director/co-writer James Ward Byrkit accomplishes much with his small budget and big ideas. Keeping both the characters on screen and we in the audience in the dark about what it really happening, using the small revelations of the scope of the phenomenon as exclamation points as the suspense increases and each new discovery becomes a kick in the gut as the safety of assumptions becomes as theoretical as the fate of Shrodinger’s Cat, one of the central metaphors of the film. The action takes place on the night when Miller’s Comet passes overhead. A
group of friends have gathered for a dinner party ripe with land mines of the social variety. The host (Nicolas Brendan) has a secret, and a career as an actor that has become stagnant. His wife (Lorene Scafarai adores him, or at least the man she married, who may not be the man in her kitchen, the dinner guests have a complicated romantic history, and one of them has brought a home-made calmative consisting of passion flower, Echinacea, and a dash of ketamine, horse tranquilizer would be the less technical name. As the evening progresses, odd things occur because of the comet. Phone spontaneously crack, lights go out, and the group entertains itself with strange tales of what happened the last time a comet came this close. Pay attention, because none of this dialogue is random. Neither are the seemingly inconsequential snippets of conversation, in not in content, who cares where a vase came from, but in foreshadowing, or is it back shadowing? That’s the thing. Once the sparkling comet draws near, the ordinary rules of time and space start to unravel, though it takes a while for the full implications of that to become apparent. Instead, a random knock on a door, with no one there when it’s answered, an endless stream of handwritten notes that appear out of nowhere, and the contents of a box become the stuff of nightmares and avatars of the unbearable terror of the unknown. Byrkit embraces his low budget. Sound effects, hand-held cameras, and things that should not be happening are used to tremendous effect. There is no melodrama from his band of actors, instead they mimic the real-word sensibilities of an unfussy style of filmmaking that renders the seemingly normal all the more creepy when it ceases to be normal. Like very other creative decision here, it’s devastatingly effective. Never mind if you can’t remember anything from the physics class you took a year or a decade ago. Though the premise is fiendishly esoteric, it plays out with narrative designed to enlighten both the characters and the audience. On the other hand, you will never think of a ping-pong paddle, or the universe, in quite the same way ever again.
Click here to listen to co-star Lorene Scafaria interviewed for SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, which she wrote and directed. (12:48).