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STUDIO Oscilloscope Laboratories
RUNNING TIME 88 minutes
• Commentary with Director, Writer, and Actors
• Test Footage
• Behind the Scenes
You’re at a dinner party. Everything’s going fine. Then, there’s a blackout. You walk down the street to the only house with lights on. That house also happens to be the same one you just left. Weird, right?
Hugo Armstrong, Nicholas Brendon, Emily Foxler, Elizabeth Gracen, James Ward Byrkit
On the night of an astronomical anomaly, eight friends at a dinner party experience a troubling change of reality bending events.
If you went into the film completely cold, the opening shot of Coherence might make you think it was a documentary. The film is shot digitally and completely handheld, always with two or three cameras. Not high end cameras. Coherence doesn’t have — or need — the not-quite-celluloid look of high end digital cinema.
Shot in a mere five days without a traditional screenplay or storyboards, this little experiment is a rare one: where the movie is as interesting as the way it was made. Director Jim Byrkit shot the film in and around his own house. Nearly all of the film’s dialogue is improvised by the actors. Most scenes weren’t blocked or rehearsed. Writer/director Jim Byrkit and writer/actor Alex Manugian had a master plan for the story, and had mapped out what scenes had to take place, and what characters needed to accomplish to move the narrative forward. Actors were given their characters’ goals and motivations for a scene, and were instructed to keep them secret. From there, the cameras started rolling, and the actors were given free reign of the house to play their scene.
These are dangerous methods. A lesser group of filmmakers and actors would have likely made an uneditable or unwatchable film, but through careful planning, excellent casting, and brilliant editing, Coherence isn’t just watchable — it’s riveting. The interactions between the characters are subtle and intricate. Their banter feels incredibly organic. They talk over one another at the dinner table, like the cast of Alien. It works wonders, enhancing that documentary feel. One of the few things that keeps it all rooted in narrative cinema in the first fifteen minutes are the scene transitions. Due to the film’s unscripted nature, scenes don’t flow seamlessly and dynamically into one another. Instead, we get hard cuts to black that create a sense of ruthless forward motion and an ominous rhythm. Then, about fifteen minutes in, our characters experience their own cut to black when the power goes out. That’s when things really start moving.
It may be a low-key, low-profile piece, but the central conceit of Coherence is very cinematic and very sci-fi. While some viewers may sense a clash between the ultra-realism of the filmmaking style and the audacity of its conceit, it all works. Themes and ideas are explored in really satisfying and smart ways. To be vague, the film deals with the idea of parallel realities and what happens when these fragile realities collide in a really messy fashion. There’s a surprising amount of horror to be mined from this idea, like when Nicholas Brendon’s recovering alcoholic character wonders aloud if his alternate self is drinking, or when a character is suspected to be a “visitor” from a different reality. There’s a real sense of betrayal in those moments — a creeping existential dread, present even in the smallest interactions.
And yet, with all this weirdness going on, our characters are still having a dinner party. It’s a very authentic touch, the desire to maintain a sense of normalcy. Don’t want to go outside in fear of meeting yourself? Take a nap. Wash the dishes. Break out the poundcake. Uncork another bottle of wine. It could be a long night. Shit, it might last forever. Nobody knows. It seems like a silly thing to do in a sci-fi movie, but it feels like the right choice for this movie. Coherence is not low on ambition, it’s just small in scale. It means that nearly all of the movie is people sitting or standing around and having conversations in a house, but that’s not boring if it’s done right. The mundane can be used to create interesting scenarios and vibrant images. During the film’s first blackout, our characters want to go outside to see if the neighbors still have power. Unable to locate a working flashlight, our characters use some blue glowsticks to illuminate their walk down the pitch black street. What do they find? That’s a moment best saved for the film, but let’s just say the glowsticks are used as storytelling devices to create tension and suspense, “like the barrels from Jaws,” says director Jim Byrkit in the disc’s commentary.
When I made my Top 15 Films of 2014 list, Coherence was on and off the list a few times before ultimately being pushed off by films I’d been digesting for a bit longer. It’s one of the best microbudget sci-fi films to come across my desk, and is a must-watch for anyone who thinks there isn’t enough smart sci-fi for grown-ups in this world. It may look uncinematic to some at first, but don’t let its low-budget look and unscripted feel fool you — there’s a damn good movie here.
This disc is a fairly standard release from Oscilloscope: beautiful packaging, nice transfer, good audio, and a couple of meaty supplements. There’s a stereo audio track, and a really nice 5.1 Surround mix that adds a ton of gloss and production value. As far as extras go, the outstanding commentary track takes the cake, but the featurette and camera tests are well worth a nerd’s time. I’d love to see some more on-set footage, but I’m satisfied with the nice little package we’ve got.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars