Published Sep 18, 2014The rare thriller that titillates using ideas rather than kinetic action, Coherence is a mind-boggling trip that builds suspense slowly once sufficiently grounding its characters in reality, then finds ways to keep you guessing where it's headed next. It plays so much like an episode of The Twilight Zone that you can practically hear Rod Serling setting up the premise at the outset.
Submitted for your approval: a group of friends reunites at one of their places for a nice dinner. The couples catch up, tell stories from the past and speculate about whether the screen of one of their phones spontaneously smashing has anything to do with a mysterious comet that's passing overhead. When the power goes out, they wander outside to find that the entire neighbourhood appears to be dark except for a house a couple blocks away that seems to have electricity.
When one of them decides to go over there to call his brother — a physicist who told him to get in touch if anything weird started happening — he returns with a head wound and a box containing just a ping pong paddle and some pictures of all of them with random numbers on the back. After some understandable reluctance, he tells them that when he was at the house, he looked in the window and saw himself with these same friends, having the exact same dinner party.
Name-checking everything from Schrodinger and his famous cat to Sliding Doors, the group begins to accept and navigate the fact that there's a parallel reality happening just down the street. The natural performances from the cast — including Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Nicholas Brendon playing a star of Roswell in a nice touch — help quickly create the outlines of characters, and their convincing rapport keeps the plot from going off the rails when it heads in some creative directions.
There's a twisted sort of logic to the actions of the group and, as they make discoveries and decisions about how to act, we're mostly in step with them along the way. Every weakness in their relationship and secret from their past has the potential to make an already bad situation even worse. The mounting tension of their predicament and the claustrophobic setting make you feel it along with them as they contemplate whether they are all losing their minds.
Director and screenwriter James Ward Byrkit has crafted the kind of ingenious micro-budget film that uses its limitations to its advantage, correctly surmising that an intriguing high-concept premise like this, played completely straight, doesn't need any additional bells or whistles.