Of the many virtues that compose James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence, the language of subtlety is not among them. A group of white middle class adults gather in a friend’s home. They banter about their technological dependency, relish in anecdotes, and briefly discuss Emily’s (Emily Baldoni) cracked iPhone screen. The current event? A comet is passing. Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) notes that his brother, a quantum physicist, was acting particularly cryptic; if anything bizarre happens tonight, it’s best that Hugo gives his brother a call. But the warm hues and crisp white wines of posh yuppie living dulls those concerns. A character proposes a toast and subsequently, Byrkit’s thesis to this incredibly terse debut: “Here’s to the life you lead”.
The finer details to Coherence are best left untouched - this is a film that benefits from knowing as little about its plot mechanics as possible. But for what it’s worth, the richness that Coherence provides has less to do with its formidable narrative quirks and more to do with simple economics. Few microbudget films possess the same sort of visual elegance that permeates through so much of the picture’s frames. And the series of influences that pervade through this picture are not what one suspects from a science-fiction film. Close-quarter close-ups on improvising actors possess the awkward intimacy of a John Cassavetes film - one could imagine a young Gena Rowlands in the lead role. The cool digital crispness of images are reminiscent of the cinematography in Steven Soderbergh’s later works. And the jarring cuts to black recalls that of Jim Jarmusch’s work as well. But what makes Byrkit so gutsy is how he refuses to employ these devices in the same way as the aforementioned auteurs. The tight focus on characters in conversation and the jarring cuts that follow are used to evoke a sense of dread and confusion. Conversations end at radically different places from typical films that one almost feels jolted in and out of the warm home that the film is set in.
The proposed science that Coherence is built upon is largely a theoretical exercise that, disappointingly, is less convincing than its characters suggest. Yet Byrkit’s technique is so remarkably elegant that it’s difficult not to be absorbed into the world(s) that take shape. Here’s a film that essentially understands its fiscal obstacles and builds upon traditional methods of filmmaking to conceal any of those potential limitations.
The central concern to Coherence is one of identity, whereby the film joins the zeitgeist of recent doppelgänger pictures (Enemy, The Double, The Pretty One, The One I Love). Coherence doesn’t necessarily call for a paradigm shift, but it’s an effective treatment of the subject. It buckles because of particular narrative issues that tend to plague most films coming from this genre (unconvincing narrative development and forced bits of exposition set out to explain), but the dense vernacular of Coherence’s technique leaves a markable impression.