The great thing about closely following a website like The Dissolve is that it can expose you to film you otherwise wouldn’t have seen (the bad thing is that I spend so much time reading it that I neglect my wife and children). The Dissolve, like many sites, puts the spotlight on the new movies it thinks are especially worth attention by labeling them “essential viewing.” The most recent movie given that tag is Coherence, a sci-fi/mumblecore film given that badge by Mike D’Angelo. D’Angelo is one of The Dissolve’s harsher critics, so when he really loves something, at the very least it demands your attention.
Coherence follows eight friends as their dinner party is interrupted in the weirdest way by an astrological event. I won’t say much more about what happens to Em (Emily Foxler), Kevin (Maury Starling), Mike (Nicholas Brendon), Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), Amir (Alex Manugian), Laurie (Lauren Maher), Hugh (Hugo Armstrong), and Lee (Lorene Scafaria) over the course of the evening because trying to unpack the situaton is part of the fun.
The movie won’t be for everyone – the improvised style (more on that later) can be a little off-putting for people who expect a little more excitement from their science fiction. The comparisons to Shane Carruth’s Primer are not completely off-base, so if you’re willing to take a healthy dose of relationship drama with your cerebral sci-fi, Coherence is probably for you. I like dialogue. A lot. (And I like Buffy alum Nicholas Brendon). So I dug on Coherence.
But the problems aren’t limited to style. The film does reach a little too far toward a big message as it nears its conclusion. It’s not that the statements that it makes aren’t apt, it’s just that they don’t necessarily need to be spelled out. And the spelling out almost invalidates them. Everything after this grand declaration of purpose rings out hollow. But Coherence has a lot of great ideas and interactions leading up to this turn.
Brendon himself was present for a Q&A after the screening where he enlightened the audience on the shooting process for the film. That type of behind the scenes information shouldn’t affect one’s enjoyment of the finished product, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the fact that the cast was improvising everything on screen, with little to no knowledge of what would happen next. When someone bangs on the door of the house, the cast is as shocked as the audience is. It doesn’t change whether Coherence is a good movie, but it does make it a much more interesting experiment.
Would I call Coherence “essential?” Well, I don’t know if I can agree with Mike D’Angelo after one viewing, but the movie that James Ward Byrkit made has at least made me curious as to whether there is enough to warrant a rewatch. People have been watching Primer for ten years; if Coherence ends up being a fraction as enjoyable it will be in good shape.