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Seeing Is Not Believing

Coherence is a fascinating and brilliant sci-fi trip

Emily Foxler in Coherence
Paranoia is rampant in Coherence. Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories
Lorene Scafaria and Nicholas Brendon in Coherence
Different color glow sticks make the proceedings in Coherence extra freaky. Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories
Lauren Maher and Emily Foxler in Coherence
As evidenced by the actors' faces, Coherence is one hell of a mind-bender. Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Most science fiction movies these days are as much about the special effects as they are the story. Some have the both of best worlds, but usually one is sacrificed for the other.

So it’s refreshing to find a movie like Coherence that almost completely eschews special effects to focus on the story. And what a story it is.

A group of friends gather together for dinner on the same night that Miller’s Comet, a celestial object with seemingly mysterious powers, is passing overhead. When the power goes out in the neighborhood, members of the group start exploring for help. What they find is something they never expected — and something that will warp not only their minds, but also the audience’s.

 Writer/director James Ward Byrkit has fashioned a film that excels as a sci-fi, suspense and relationship drama all at the same time.

Apologies for the cryptic description of the plot, but this is one of those rare movies where the less you know going in, the better. Writer/director James Ward Byrkit has fashioned a film that excels as a sci-fi, suspense and relationship drama all at the same time.

With an economy of words, he lays out who the characters are and what their relationships were like leading up to this fateful night. By cleverly editing scenes so that cuts happen unpredictably, he ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable degree. And by using twists in a capricious but timely manner, he keeps the audience guessing throughout.

Unlike most sci-fi films, it’s what isn’t shown that makes Coherence successful. Doors are rattled, windows are shattered, and people come and go at random, but the result is much more interesting than a horror film would be. The film is cerebral to a certain extent, but you don’t have to have a genius IQ to enjoy what it delivers.

Most viewers won’t know any of the actors involved, but they come through in all the key moments of the film. The ostensible lead, Emily Foxler, is a character actress who’s appeared in one episode of multiple TV series. Here, though, she is the glue that keeps everything together — on screen, at least — and it’s her reactions to the increasingly baffling situations that make her the audience surrogate.

Coherence, despite its looping and potentially confusing plot, is far from incoherent. Instead, it’s a fascinating and brilliant trip down a particular rabbit hole that might make you wonder which way is up by the time you leave the theater.

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