PLOT: Eight longtime friends get together for a dinner party on the same night a comet passes over the Earth; soon, strange events are forcing them to confront the possibility that their reality has been severely changed.
REVIEW: A dinner party turns into a metaphysical nightmare in COHERENCE, James Ward Byrkit's surreal and fascinating Twilight Zone-ish thriller that blends hard science fiction with creepy "who goes there?" horror movie. While it certainly leans closer to the sci-fi side of itself, it's a cinch that genre fans of all stripes will be intrigued by the movie's ability to make us think while also giving us the willies. It's also one of the few movies to come along in recent memory where the plot is rather unpredictable and the escalating twists aren't just window dressing, but legitimate and well-earned surprises.
A group of old friends gather for a dinner party on the night Miller's Comet returns to fly over the Earth. It's a light and casual affair, perhaps diluted somewhat by the tension evolving from the ex-girlfriend (Lauren Maher) of Kevin (Maury Sterling) arriving with his good friend Amir (Alex Manugian), while Kevin's current girlfriend Em (Emily Foxler) looks on with slight disapproval. Also present are Mike (Nicholas Brendan), a struggling actor; Mike's wife Lee (Lorene Scafaria); Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), a slightly older couple. Slowly but surely, weird occurrences begin to occur and successfully derail the good times: Phones break of their own accord, while the power in the neighborhood goes out. One house in the distance appears to be the only one still up and running, but a trip there by two of our dinner guests produces unexpected results when they return freaked out and carrying a lock box. What's inside the box will freak them all out even more, and they'll begin to wonder if they're all losing their minds or are in fact in the middle of a supernatural phenomena caused by the comet's passing.
COHERENCE is definitely a movie that shouldn't, be spoiled for you - in fact, it actually can't. To have it described would easily dilute how fun it is to experience, as one new revelation after another is made. As referenced above, it's obvious Byrkit has seen his fair share of Rod Serling's classic 60s sci-fi series, where regular people are suddenly confronted by mind-altering experiences that change their perception of their own reality. One of the "Zone's" favorite themes - "Are we really who we think we are?" - is given a level-headed approach by the writer-director, whose big ideas are not hindered by the film's low-budget veneer.
Byrkit's screenplay has its fair share of contrivances: A few characters helpfully know the strange histories of comets from the past which help to explain the odd events taking place, while yet another just happens to have a book about quantum physics in his car. Additionally, once the nature of just what is happening has been revealed, our protagonists seem to settle into their acceptance of it a little too quickly. I can guarantee I'd be freaking right the hell out for hours after making some of the discoveries made in the film, as opposed to pouring drinks and prepping dessert. That said, Byrkit is adept at keeping them - and us - on our toes, and the complacency never lasts long as there's always some new level of dread to be revealed.
The cast has a very natural chemistry, especially in the early scenes, which add to the initially grounded atmosphere that slowly begins to unravel as the movie goes on. No one showboats too much, there aren't overboard hysterics to rattle you out of the situation, and each actor is distinct enough to make their mark while still ensuring the film is an ensemble piece. Especially impressive is Brendon - whom we all remember as sweet-natured Xander from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - here showing considerable range as a happy-go-lucky guy hiding a dark side that seems ready to pour out at any given moment.