Eight friends meet for dinner as a comet passes overhead, and strange things begin to occur – that’s all that should be said of Coherence’s premise, as further details only run the risk of ruining this harrowing and unpredictable psychological horror.
Headed up by Em (Emily Foxler) and Kevin (Maury Sterling), the film’s ensemble cast drives the narrative with their characters’ own personal drama and ongoing attempt to understand what’s happening to them, matched only by the audience’s own inevitable curiosity. As they begin to realise the scale of their esoteric situation, so too will viewers feel chilled – filmmaker James Ward Byrkit taps skilfully into a latent fear of the unknown, the characters’ circumstances bound to disquiet and haunt the audience.
Coherence’s invocation of quantum mechanics shouldn’t worry non-technical audiences; unlike firmly intellectual sci-fi such as Primer, to which this will undoubtedly be compared, we’re walked through every concept in comprehensible steps, precluding nobody from understanding events (crucial to frightening the audience with the momentous implications). However, every revelation brings with it additional questions, Coherence quickly proving itself an unapologetic brain-bender. As the vastness of the crisis becomes increasingly pronounced, members of the audience will surely wonder: What should they do? What would I do?
Though not universally likeable, the dinner guests’ realistic and nuanced character is a boon; their disparate backgrounds and individual disputes are engaging, clearly designed to reel in and disturb empathetic viewers, and help instil in them – as in the dinner guests – a sense of total helplessness. At the same time, the ensemble is wasted in part; Laurie (Lauren Maher) is almost entirely superfluous, we see little of Lee (Lorene Scafaria), and the film seems to adopt Em as its sole protagonist by the end (perhaps by necessity). Foxler’s solid performance and her sympathetic character, at least, makes that transition bearable.
In any case, the film’s psychological impact is not dimmed, and it is this element of the film that makes Coherence stand out. It will give you goosebumps and it will make you think; some viewers may find themselves feeling as panicked as its party of eight. Despite its nominal status as science fiction, this is horror for thinking persons – and it excels in that category. Give it a go.