Coherence tells us that the evil version of ourselves we’re so afraid of, is us. This is a movie that walks across several genre lines including suspense, thriller, mystery, and science fiction to tell a story that is both highly relatable and at the same time thoroughly confusing. Playing on our fears of other versions of ourselves (which we assume must be the evil versions, see every sci-fi alternate reality movie/t.v. show ever made), Coherence forces us to confront the idea that maybe we aren’t the good version of ourselves after all, and in fact may be the evil one. Or maybe there is no evil one. Coherence lives somewhere in the dark spaces between science fiction mystery alter and sci-fi horror/suspense, much like the dark spaces between houses in the movie, you get the roulette wheel with the watching of it. – 4/5 (Genre)
So what’s it all about? Eight friends get together for the first time a quite some time to have dinner, commiserate, and have general merriment while on the same night that happens to be when a comet is passing incredibly close to the Earth. The comet features prominently through the movie though more so in the early portions when reasonable discussion was still occurring. One of the first to arrive is Em (Emily Baldoni) at the house of Lee (Lorene Scafaria) and Mike (Nicholas Brendon) where the party will take place. Her boyfriend Kevin (Maury Sterling) tells her on the phone that he will be there shortly right before Em’s phone screen shatters for no apparent reason. The friends gather over time and they begin to talk about everything from who is coming to the party (Amir (Alex Manugian) is bringing Laurie (Lauren Maher), relevant because of relationships) and it becomes quickly apparent that the focus of the movie is Em, and they all are concerned for her. It figures that a movie that straddles horror would of course focus on the blonde haired white woman, but that’s for another time or place. You may also glean this little insight if you look at the cover picture at all, so not really giving anything away with that. They have dinner, discuss the past and the comet, with Em giving us wonderfully colorful insights about past comets such as when one passed before it left people in Finland confused and lost with one woman claiming the man in her house could not be her husband because she had killed her husband. He was her husband. Whether that particular story is actually true (as in did happen) I’m uncertain though I do know that the one that exploded over Siberia which Em later recites was an actual event, so I’d be inclined to believe the former was real as well. However, given the degree to which it foreshadows the coming events of the movie I am hesitant to take it at face value.
As is oft to happen in movies things go awry when the power suddenly goes out, and it’s discovered that the whole neighborhood is out except for one house a couple blocks away. How did they see it if it’s a couple blocks away? Even in a straight line, given the normal state of neighborhoods of that type, and from what is seen during the day later on in movie, they would be hard pressed to tell the light was coming from a house, but there you have it. Amir and Hugh go to check out the house to see if they can use the phone and that is when things begin to fall apart. The other house is Mike and Lee’s house, but it isn’t. There are others in the house that are each of them, but not them. Evil doppelgangers? It would seem Nicholas Brendon brought some of alternate Xander with him to the movie because his first instinct is to go kill their doubles. Umm, I’d be a little concerned if one of my friends first go to strategies for dealing with a crisis was ‘go kill them before they kill us’. It would have been a little more believable if he had gotten their after a longer deliberation time or further into the movie, but this was his literal go to move out of the gate! Who need enemies yea? At any rate, we end up with a tale of alternate realities, confusions, suspicion, and tension that tears at the fabric of the friendships. And while all that is well and good, we also get to look at ourselves in the mirror of Em and her decisions later in the movie. She seems level headed at first, but looks can and are very deceiving.
Almost the entire movie has the feel of a home movie to it, shaky camera action akin to found footage films, and the lack of sheen to the screen that we are accustomed to contribute to this feeling. The quick black screen cuts also make it feel like a home movie, but it’s obvious it is not as there is never any acknowledgment that the camera is there or that anyone has one. This was a bit awkward and distracting to me. I can deal with the shaky camera and weird cuts as stylistic choices, and they fit the story well here, but the feeling that we’re another person, albeit unacknowledged, in the room just feels a little strange. To make that odd feeling stretch a little more the last 15 minutes or so lose this feeling and deliver a more standard movie type presentation. Where did I go? How am I seeing the events if I’m not the unseen observer anymore? This is unlikely to bother most people if you can already handle found footage style movies, but it really irked me, and detracted from the overall experience. Commitment to one style would have alleviated this issue a bit, no matter how seamless the transition may have occurred.
The music is the exact opposite to the camera work. Steady, subdued, and ethereal it gives a continuous sense of impending dread, or tension that works so well to drive the story and validate the sometimes odd sudden out bursts from the characters. Kristen Øhrn Dyrud did an amazing job of both creating and capturing the atmosphere of the movie, and the music which remains almost unheard and unfelt throughout most the of first part of the movie is in fact the sole driver of tension. There are a couple of jump scare attempts that failed, but they were forgivable and we are carried past them as the ethereal intensity of the music builds and falls almost in opposition to some of the tenser moments. I will say that normally I don’t pay too much attention to the music in movies as it’s either doing its job or its not, end of story. However, in Coherence the music stands out on it’s own, another version of the story being told, a tapestry on which the characters and plot rely on to carry them in their weaker moments.
I was impressed as well by the acting in the beginning of the movie. As I said it felt like a home movie and this was greatly helped by the interaction of the actors. No one of them really stood out to me, Emily in the end of the movie being the exception, but the interplay between them jumped off the screen with life as they spoke over each other, struggled for dominance in the conversation and basically made us feel like we were really at a party trying to hear a conversation over the din of others talking. It felt like they had all known each for years, and cemented the gathering friends reason for their being there. Unfortunately this also came with its own doppelganger, where in moments of tension or when the whole group was not present it felt as if the magically interplay just fell flat on its face with bald moments of just awkward dialogue. The beauty of the story though is that it didn’t allow these moments to happen for very long, and kept the group mostly together in majority for the bulk of the movie. Good decision as I don’t think any one of these characters could really shoulder the weight the movie was placing on them. Even when Em is on her own she really isn’t, and there is zero dialogue for her during that time. As an ensemble cast they are very strong, on their own they all felt very weak.
The moral to Coherence is that we are the evil versions of ourselves, or there is no evil version. Either would be an acceptable interpretation based on the entire movie sans the last 10 minutes. The “science” used to tie this all together is the all too familiar Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. Probably most popularized by The Big Bang Theory (the show not the actual theory) it postulates that if two different states of being can exist then they must each exist at the same time until observed, wherein the act of observing collapses the coexistence and creates a singular state (this is the cat that they’re all yammering on about). Where Coherence goes further is to suggest that the wave functions of coexisting states of reality don’t have to collapse upon observation but can exist independent of, and without interaction with, each other. The refer to decoherence a lot as the explanation of the isolation of realities, but completely misinterpret the meaning of decoherence. That is Coherence in a nutshell, all possible realities existing at once courtesy of a comet passing by the Earth. Get by this little bit of incorrect scientific interpretation (someone please correct me if I’m wrong on this), and you will have a good solid movie with very existential conundrums. And go to murder happy friends, yikes!
Coherence is built on the idea of mystery, confusion, and not really knowing yourself or those around you, even those you’ve known for years. But it becomes a much deeper metaphysical exercise that critiques our understanding of who we are as humans, and does so in an entertaining fashion. If they could have done away with the shaky camera, some of the weaker moments, and perhaps a different ending it would have delivered an excellent thought provoking story. As it stands, it delivers a solid message with its ending, but at the same time deprives the viewer of thinking for themselves what the meaning could be, despite building this theme up throughout the entirety of the rest of the movie. Coherence could have been more, but what it ended up as is a pretty solid and entertaining movie with some flaws.
Overall: 4/5 (Genre)