Movie Review: Coherence

“Decoherence and Schrodinger’s Cat.”

This movie blew my mind, gave me nightmares, and has impressed everyone I’ve recommended it to. Please watch it.

It’s tempting to end this review there: just watch the darn thing, which is currently available on Amazon Prime. Don’t Google it first. Just let it work its spooky magic. Plus, it has Nicholas Brendon!

Want more? Okay, here’s a trailer. It doesn't give too much away:

Want even more? Here's my attempt to explain why this movie is awesome without spoiling its awesomeness. Then a spoiler kitten, below which lurk spoilers.

The logline for this film does a decent job of explaining the premise: “In this mind-bending sci-fi thriller, 8 [sic] friends at a dinner party start experiencing strange and mysterious events on the night a comet is passing close to Earth. Soon it becomes clear that nothing and no one are what they appear.”

Although calling it “sci-fi” implies more technology porn and metallic gleam than this low-budget movie contains, that description communicates the basic idea: a dinner party with friends while a comet passes. At first, all the predictable tensions of long-term friends dealing with long-term baggage over canapes and wine. Then, all sorts of unpredictable baggage as their phones break, the power goes out, and everything goes haywire.

Haywire—as my lead quote implies—at the level of abstract physics, which is to say the sort of “mind-bending” concept that is delightful to read about and would be completely fucking horrifying to experience.

That obscenity is, I think, justified. The handheld camera, tight locations (most of the movie takes place in the house), and semi-improvised dialogue made this movie seem vitally real. The nightmares I had about it were shot in the same shaky-cam, poorly lit style.

Because shaky-cam is exactly what the world would turn into if suddenly your neighborhood was not your neighborhood, the individual self was no longer a discreet entity, and you found yourself trapped in a logic puzzle with serious ontological—and even physical—stakes, with no hope for escape, especially once you realized the depth of your own predicament.

There’s no flash here, no special effects of mindmelds or anything like that, just a deeply personal story of a group, and of individuals, coming apart at the seams as they are forced to reflect on the nature of their own existences.

Spoiler Kitten, Below Which Are Spoilers

Typing that sentence feels slightly absurd, but this movie really did a number on me. When the group realized that their house has a duplicate, a double, just a couple blocks away, inhabited by themselves, things got pleasingly odd. The jostling confusion of various people moving in and out of the house, disappearing for periods of time then coming back, was disturbing. But once the situation became clear—not two houses but infinite houses, infinite groups—I got completely lost in the tension.

Towards the end of the film, the audience-identification character Em realizes that even the people she thinks are “her” people from “her” house are not “hers.” They haven’t been for a long time, and she has no way to get back to “her” people or even identify them. (More on that below.) Her journey through the blackness, peering into the various houses—at one point seeing two Nicholas Brendons tied to chairs, marked with red and green glowsticks—felt like an ontological apocalypse.

It’s been a long time since a movie disturbed me as much as this one did, but the disturbance was actually quite pleasing: comparable to Primer, another lowbudget mindbender, Coherence is thoughtful and trippy, like House of Leaves crossed with an as-yet-undiscovered garage band. I hated dealing with the nightmares (which may, I admit, have been exacerbated by an excess of Nutella before bed), but I love that I managed to discover a little gem that I get to recommend wholeheartedly to anyone interested in the offbeat and disturbing.

Bits and Pieces and Pieces and Bits:

• This movie was filmed in five days.

• Nicholas Brendon plays a TV actor from the TV show Roswell. Or does he? The conversation with Laurie about whether or not he was really on that show raises some interesting questions about which universe she came from. (Perhaps the one composed of nothing but shrimp. I'll bet she tired of that one quickly.)

• The killer moment for me was when Em, walking from house to house, takes a moment to check the identifying box and discovers a stuffed monkey. It was at that moment that I—and I think Em, too—realized that she could never identify “her” house, since she didn’t know what object they put in their box. She’d left “her” house before that happened. (The ping-pong paddle was brought into the house but not from her house.)

• I wonder how many tiny things had to happen, butterfly-effect style, for the last house to be as happy as they were.

Four out of four glowsticks.

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


J.D. Balthazar said...

I loved this one too, and I totally forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder

Billie Doux said...

I saw this movie last night and it's really terrific. The last half hour totally creeped me out.

I think you're right about the Nick Brendon in Roswell thing, which makes me wonder when the confusion actually started. As soon as there were two Nick Brendons, I thought, "Aha! They hired him because (1) he was in a Roswell-like show for years, and (2) he has a twin brother. :)

And BTW, the woman with the short white hair is Elizabeth Gracen, who was one of the stars of another favorite show of mine, Highlander. She was also once Miss America. FWIW. I've always liked her.

Lamounier said...

This movie is amazing.

I was impressed when I first watched it and have been recommending it to people ever since. One night hanging out with friends we wondered what we would do next and I suggested the movie. It went down like this:

Me: “Oh, there’s this great movie called Coherence”
A friend: “From the Divergent saga?”
Me: “No, nothing to do with it. It’s a movie about eight friends who are having dinner at a house, a comet passes and some weird stuff starts happening.”
Another friend: “What kind of stuff?”
Me: “Well, I rather not say. The less you know, the better you will enjoy the movie. Please do trust me that it’s really great.”

They all loved it, except for one friend that fell asleep watching it (we sent her to another reality, of course). Afterwards, we discussed the ambiguous ending (where did bathtub Em go? Was she the same Em that “our” Em hid on the trunk? Was she a third one?) And just yesterday, because this review reminded me of this little gem, I recommended it to a co-worker.

The moments that stood out for me were:

- Em and her fiancé (or boyfriend?) are standing near her car and they realize they’re not from the same reality. It’s such a great moment. The shot of Em’s fiancé staring at her, almost as if he were frozen, is so chilling.

- Em noticing the numbers are not the same she wrote down and realizing she is from a different house, followed by her conversation with Nicholas Brendon’s character. “We’re stuck”.

Of course, there are many more great moments and bits. On rewatch, I loved catching details and going all “oh, this is where this character went away and a different version of him/her came back”. I was impressed by how things added up and by the coherence, pardon the pun, of the story. It’s even more impressive if we consider that a lot was improvised and the entire thing was shot in five days. Bravo!

Nick Brendon was great. So was the actress who played Em. Then again, the entire cast was really solid.

I loved the comet related stories that the spiritually sensitive woman told, especially the story about the woman who said her husband was not really her husband because she had killed her real husband the day before. That would make a great prequel movie. Or a great X-Files episode.

topher darling said...

Just watched it with my boyfriend & we both liked it a lot! We saw The Invitation recently which is another dinner party gone bad film but this was a LOT better! I would've probably never found it without this review. Thanks!!!

Josie Kafka said...

Your post made my day, Topher!