Coherence-02Coherence is a vigorous affirmation that a great script trumps special effects in crafting a superior science fiction movie. James Ward Byrkit’s screenplay is the real star of this rock solid, thinking man’s flick. The film has a theatrical sense to it with a relatively small cast of eight spending most of the 90-minute runtime in a dining room as a typical suburban dinner party turns into a cosmic event, but what the movie might lack in explosions and spaceships, it makes up in tension and intellectual provocation.

The ensemble cast, drawn largely from television, succeeds because they look familiar as individuals from real life rather than from previous roles on the screen. They easily inhabit their parts here, each one existing as the male or female of a romantically involved couple ranging in experience from early dating to long-time married. It seems that there may have been some cross-fertilization between the pairings as well, which nicely amplifies a philosophical question about true identity that arises over the course of the evening.

A comet is passing overhead, an event that initially serves as a topic for conversation, but then turns into a source of wonder and, eventually, fear as the group asks if minor, but increasingly serious events are somehow tied to the astrological occurence. A cracked iPhone, different color glowsticks, and a ping pong paddle all acquire a greater significance as fundamental questions of existence come into play.

These mundane household items are juxtaposed against the tenets of quantum physics, alternate universes, and Schrödinger’s cat as the group tries to put together a puzzle of a picture that keeps changing while key pieces go missing. What at first resembles The Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” becomes a novelization of “A Brief History of Time.” To say more would not spoil the action so much as to detract from the delicate unfolding of the scenario by director/screenwriter Byrkit.

One small quibble with the story is its reliance on a book on quantum physics that just happens to be in the car of one of the guests at the party because his brother (a completely offscreen character who is mentioned, but is never seen or heard from) works in the field and left it behind by mistake recently. It’s an awkward, implausible coincidence that lands with a clunk every time it’s mentioned. The book provides the explanation of the phenomena, but it’s an explanation viewers do not need. Coherence is a film that is going to be enjoyed by those that do not need to be spoonfed storylines. Next time, skip the part where the character reads a passage from the book that explains what is happening in the midst of a movie about wondrous occurences.

The cast is well balanced, and the varying reactions to the increasing stress do seem appropriate, although the alcoholic seizing the opportunity to relapse is slightly cliched. Emily Baldoni turns in particularly strong work here as Em, a acharacter who becomes increasingly concerned about her own fate in relation to the other members of the group as the evening goes on, and the full effects of the comet become evident. It is Baldoni’s work in support of Byrkit’s story that provides the power to the film’s fine ending.

Three and a half stars.

 

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