Schrodinger's cat is an imaginary illustration of a paradox: "When does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states and become one or the other?" Writer/director James Ward Byrkit explores this thought experiment and various results in his first feature, Coherence, which adds a new dimension to the typical dinner party film.
Coherence evolves at an intimate dinner gathering of four couples: former dancer Em (Emily Baldoni) and Kevin (Maury Sterling), former Roswell actor Mike (Nicholas Brendon) and his introverted wife Lee (Lorene Scafaria), older couple Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), and Amir (Alex Manugian) who brings his new girlfriend Laurie (Lauren Maher).
It's quickly revealed that Laurie has an intimate history with Kevin, which leads to awkward moments, but Em is more concerned about something she's heard -- the astronomic event of a lifetime taking place that same night. Miller's Comet is due to pass near Earth, and reports of strange occurrences during previous passings are a discussion point after Em's phone inexplicably cracks.
After the lights go out in the entire neighborhood -- with the exception of one house in the distance -- the group is compelled to investigate, which sets dramatic and often terrifying events into motion.
Coherence is a cerebral thriller reminiscent of Sliding Doors, as well as Twilight Zone episodes like "Mirror Image" and "Death Shop" that deal with doppelgangers and alternate realities. Ironically, the characters in Coherence aren't just trapped in a funhouse, but within their own selves due to choices they've made in their past that also impact those around them. Each characters must face his or her own self-identity, often with sobering and devastating consequences.
For Coherence, Byrkit collaborated with co-writer Alex Manugian to develop a detailed treatment. The writing team outlined critical conflicts between characters as well as the story progression and plot reversals. The dialogue and action was improvised and unrehearsed and was shot without a screenplay over the course of five nights.
What results is a natural yet complex and engaging story that kept me on the edge of my seat ... when I wasn't jumping out of it.
I'm not a fan of relationship drama and dinner-party movies like The Big Chill, and the only time I've even enjoyed a lengthy dinner dialogue scene was in Richard Linklater's Before Midnight. Whether it's due to disinterest in extended scenes that fail to engage me personally or discomfort for the voyeuristic perspective, this genre lacks personal appeal.
Therefore, I found Coherence to be difficult to get into initially, but once the movie reached the 12-minute point it became much more interesting with the introduction of the science-fiction element. The twist helped me engage with the characters more intimately than the initial expository conversations.
The cinematography and production design hits the mark, with close shots and intimate lighting. The score and sound design set the tone for Coherence as a psychological thriller quite well.
The strong performances of the ensemble cast in Coherence are well balanced, reflecting complex character development. The portrayals of Nicholas Brendon and Emily Baldoni's characters really stand out, and I plan to rewatch the film to better understand their character motivations.
Coherence poses a question that can never be truly answered: What would you do to survive if you know your doppelganger not only exists but could impact your own existence? After watching this thriller, I'm convinced that I never want to face that dilemma. I recommend watching this film and coming up with your own answers.