Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Top 10 Takeaways: Two African-American Movies Draw Crowds as 'We Are Your Friends' Plays in Empty Theaters Top 10 Takeaways: Two African-American Movies Draw Crowds as 'We Are Your Friends' Plays in Empty Theaters Welles Whiz Peter Bogdanovich Says 'Other Side of the Wind' Will Start Editing This Fall Welles Whiz Peter Bogdanovich Says 'Other Side of the Wind' Will Start Editing This Fall With 'A Sinner in Mecca,' Parvez Sharma Puts His Soul and More on the Line (Exclusive Clips and Poster) With 'A Sinner in Mecca,' Parvez Sharma Puts His Soul and More on the Line (Exclusive Clips and Poster) Christopher Nolan to Address Film Preservation at London Film Fest Christopher Nolan to Address Film Preservation at London Film Fest Stream the Nightmarish 'Queen of Earth' Score Composed by Keegan DeWitt (Exclusive) Stream the Nightmarish 'Queen of Earth' Score Composed by Keegan DeWitt (Exclusive) Watch: 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' Turns 40 Watch: 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' Turns 40 Germany Submits 'Labyrinth of Lies' as More Foreign Oscar Picks Emerge (Exclusive Trailer) Germany Submits 'Labyrinth of Lies' as More Foreign Oscar Picks Emerge (Exclusive Trailer) Cate Blanchett to Receive BFI Honor Cate Blanchett to Receive BFI Honor Mike Birbiglia's 'Don't Think Twice' to Get Serious About Comedy Mike Birbiglia's 'Don't Think Twice' to Get Serious About Comedy Listen to 'Crimson Peak' Sound Artist Randy Thom Talk Dolby, Influence of 'Apocalypse Now' Listen to 'Crimson Peak' Sound Artist Randy Thom Talk Dolby, Influence of 'Apocalypse Now' What Happened to 'Lewis And Clark'? HBO Miniseries Resumes Production in Spring What Happened to 'Lewis And Clark'? HBO Miniseries Resumes Production in Spring TIFF First Look: David Oyelowo and Dianne Wiest Lead 'Five Nights in Maine' TIFF First Look: David Oyelowo and Dianne Wiest Lead 'Five Nights in Maine' Tarantino Opens Up about 'Hateful Eight,' Disses Cate Blanchett and 'True Detective,' and More Tarantino Opens Up about 'Hateful Eight,' Disses Cate Blanchett and 'True Detective,' and More Top 10 Takeaways: 'Straight Outta Compton' Rules, Outgrosses Three New Openers Combined Top 10 Takeaways: 'Straight Outta Compton' Rules, Outgrosses Three New Openers Combined Lynch, Fincher, 'True Detective' and the Unknowable Future of Auteur TV Lynch, Fincher, 'True Detective' and the Unknowable Future of Auteur TV 10 Things You Might Not Know About Pixar's 'Inside Out' 10 Things You Might Not Know About Pixar's 'Inside Out' Nicolas Cage and Mike Figgis Reunite for First Time Since 'Leaving Las Vegas' Nicolas Cage and Mike Figgis Reunite for First Time Since 'Leaving Las Vegas' 'The Tribe,' 'Wolfpack' Among 19 Films in 2015 SF Film Fest Competition 'The Tribe,' 'Wolfpack' Among 19 Films in 2015 SF Film Fest Competition Ten Hot Movie Pairings to Look Forward to in 2015 (Trailers) Ten Hot Movie Pairings to Look Forward to in 2015 (Trailers) Why Ten Years Later, Jonathan Glazer's 'Birth' Is Still a Masterpiece Why Ten Years Later, Jonathan Glazer's 'Birth' Is Still a Masterpiece

James Ward Byrkit's Bracingly Original Sci-Fi 'Coherence' Will Mess with Your Brain

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! June 16, 2014 at 3:52PM

I did not sleep the night I watched James Ward Byrkit's metaphysically terrifying debut "Coherence," a low-budget sci-fi indie that doubles, and triples, and quadruples, as a truly original existential horror movie.
2
'Coherence'
'Coherence'

I did not sleep the night I watched James Ward Byrkit's metaphysically terrifying debut "Coherence," a low-budget sci-fi indie that doubles, and triples, and quadruples, as a truly original existential horror movie. As each piece of this puzzle about eight people collectively going insane shuffles and reshuffles, you never quite know what the hell is going on, and you can almost feel your brain being rewired and, to put it bluntly, royally fucked with.

Things begin innocently enough. On the night of an unprecedented cosmic event, four couples come together for a dinner party. Byrkit's talky script begins with a bit of playful class critique, as these eight longtime friends are introduced as granola-eating, yoga-doing, upper-middle-class bourgeois brats. 

Coherence

Drawn with at-first broad strokes before their specificities become their (and our) undoing, these vanilla thirty-somethings are utterly ordinary: One, Em (Emily Foxler), is a ballerina whose career never really took flight, another (Nicholas Brendon) is a has-been actor and recovering alcoholic, another is a pedantic lawyer, and so on. The one wild card is Laurie (Lauren Maher), the dark-haired devil in a tight dress who once dated Em's current boyfriend Kevin (Maury Sterling).

What looks to be just another uncomfortable evening of passive aggressive dinner theater becomes the stuff of haunted house cliches as a comet passes overhead: cell reception is lost, iPhone screens shatter out of nowhere, ominous bumps-in-the-night are heard outside and all electricity in the neighborhood is knocked out. There's talk of the Tunguska event of 1908 -- when a meteorological explosion flattened a chunk of Russia's forest -- some dubious quantum physics, and, oh, a vial of watered-down ketamine.

These are just red herrings for what's about to come at you like a brick through a windshield. Two members of the group venture up the street to the only lit house on a very dark block, and that's when things go malevolently batty. 

But to divulge any more of "Coherence" -- a bit like Thomas Vinterberg's "The Celebration" by head-spinning way of the best of "The Twilight Zone" -- would take the piss out of the whole thing. 

While not as bafflingly theoretical as Shane Carruth's "Primer" -- which this film has been compared to -- the metaphysics here are addictively stressful, murky fun. A for-dummies breakdown of Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment -- a paradox presupposing that multiple realities can exist in tandem -- provides one key to the mystery, but it's like being handed a map without a legend. Until that map, along with your head, is thrown in the trash.

What really makes "Coherence," shot with trembling, paranoia-inducing handheld naturalism, such an effective genre brain scrambler is the carefully measured character development. Byrkit allegedly kept his actors very much in the dark about the narrative goings-on, and its reality-bending twists are made all the more chilling as long-thought-to-be-buried secrets come to harrowing light. 

It's taken a long way to get here since it bowed at Austin's Fantastic Fest in 2013. But "Coherence," one of the most richly imaginative movies you will ever see, could very well be a game-changer for sci-fi the same way "Primer" was in 2004. But the comparisons stop there.

Oscilloscope brings "Coherence" to NY and LA this Friday, June 20, before a limited rollout and VOD release.

This article is related to: Coherence, Reviews, Oscilloscope Laboratories, Fantastic Fest


E-Mail Updates








Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.