Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 18, 2014 12:00 pm 
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A mind-bending scary movie, with adults mostly just talking in a dining room

Coherence is a suave low budget mind-bender about a dinner party that turns sci-fi and apocalyptic. There are four couples in their thirties and forties. Emily (Emily Baldoni) and her boyfriend Kevin (Maury Sterling), and Kevin's ex-girlfriend Laurie (Lauren Maher) arrive at the house of Mike (Nicholas Brendon) in the Los Angeles hills, where they're joined by the tall, bearded Hugh (Hugo Armstrong), his wife the fashionably gray Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), the rat-faced Amir (Alex Manugian), and the dark-haired Lee (Lorene Scafaria). The improvised dialogue involves lots of repetition ("How are you?" "I'm great"), and big hugs, and later when things get dicey lots of "I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine's." But while that's generic, as are the house, the little jolts from music, and the handheld photography, this is scheduled to be unusual evening. A comet is passing close by the earth. And it has an effect, various effects. The electricity goes off, cell phones won't work, and the glass on several goes crazy. "We're just rattled because we're addicted to cell phones and Internet," says Emily. The party goes a little crazy too when Hugh and Amir go off to see what's up with the one house nearby that's still brightly lit, and Hugh sees their own dinner party taking place in this other house, while Amir brings back a metal box containing snapshots of all of them with numbers penned on the back, a message from their doubles, perhaps. Thus are blended "The Twilight Zone" and Shane Carruth's brilliant little time-travel film Primer, with a touch of the parallel-planet movie Another Earth, and a soupcon of Rian Johnson's Looper. One of those present, by the way, is a former star of the TV show "Roswell." If you buy into all this, it's great, and the lack of cute, screaming twenty-somethings provides a more mature note, though given the mostly-mental action, the twenty-somethings may be missed. But while this is a scary movie, it's also a think piece, with potential of appealing to an older crowd.

First-timer James Ward Byrkit wastes no time delving into the puzzles and possibilities. The group begins a deep debate of the weird things going on before even forty minutes are up. At first the others think Hugh and Amir just walked around in a circle and saw the same house, and later it's suggested that Beth put a custom tranquilizer with Ketamine in the food and that just gave them all hallucinations. But when they all start cooking up schemes about how to ignore their doubles or eliminate them to avoid danger, that's where things get interesting, and a lot of other plot lines open up.

On the other hand, when they start talking about "Quantum Decoherence" and "multi-factor authenticators" and cutting up photos and filling boxes and fussing about a book and messages left on a door and a ring and throwing dice, it can seem pretty contrived, and you may wonder why they don't just all go home and wait till this comet thing, if it is a thing, blows over. But then there would be no Coherence. How many alternate realities are there? Maybe Emily, who emerges as the de facto protagonist of the piece, will find out. Stick to the end, because Byrkit & Co. have crafted an interesting finale. Coherence is admirable in its economy. It could get sympathetic viewers to engage in intense post-viewing debates But it's not as accomplished and complex and involving as Looper or as brilliant and thought-provoking as Primer.

Coherence, 89 mins., debuted Sept. 2013 at the Austin Fantastic Fest, showed at other festivals, mostly US, including San Francisco. It opens in NYC at the Village East Cinemas and in Los Angeles 20 June 2014.

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