Format: Cinema

Release date: 13 February 2015

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: James Ward Byrkit

Writer: James Ward Byrkit

Cast: Emily Foxler, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Lorene Scafaria, Elizabeth Gracen

USA 2013

89 mins

Coherence begins like any number of US indie flicks: a group of affluent young professionals gather for a dinner party. The faux-improv dialogue and shaky camerawork are as you’d expect. The performances are completely convincing. But there are references to a comet passing overhead and the strange things that can happen as a result – a not too convincing pretext for a sci-fi twist.

However, when the twist comes, it bounces off the naturalistic style in a way that’s very entertaining. A power cut blacks out the neighbourhood except for one house up the hill. A couple of the guests go to investigate, and return with a crazy story: the house with lights is the same house, and the same people are inside, eating their dinner. A box has been retrieved, which contains numbered photographs of everyone at the party. And a table tennis paddle.

If you’re susceptible to this kind of plot hook, you are now hooked and must keep watching (the way you watched Lost) in hopes of a satisfactory explanation. A dramatically – not scientifically – satisfactory answer does actually come together with a snowballing set of peculiar consequences to what is apparently a breakdown in the barriers that normally keep us from mingling with the people in the universe next door, and the one next to that, and the one next to that…

As the situation develops into increasing craziness, perfectly logically given its loopy premise, relationships break down along with reality, and a mild form of Lynchian terror is unleashed. It’s also rather funny. ‘There are a million universes out there and I slept with your wife in all of them!’ I found it all rather irresistible. The one wrong step seemed to me the introduction of violence, the breakdown of civilisation, which misses the point of the particular anxiety the story concept trades on, which has to do with doppelgangers and being unable to trust your senses, and what is sometimes called jamais vu – ’I have never been here before,’ said as you walk into your own home and meet your loved ones without any sense of familiarity.

This review is part of our 2014 EIFF coverage. Coherence is released on DVD in the UK on 16 February 2015 by Metrodome.

David Cairns

Watch the trailer: