Coherence (2014) Movie Review

Coherence is a low-budget psychological science fiction film and the debut full-length release from director James Ward Byrkit (writer, Rango). At the risk of revealing any major spoilers for those who may want to see this movie, I will keep the synopsis short.

Most of the film takes place inside a house where a dinner party between eight friends is occurring. On this particular night, there has been a comet sighting. The guests share some anecdotes about comets causing strange, unexplained events in the past. Then, lo and behold, strange, unexplained events start occurring. People’s phone screens begin to crack mid-call. One character claims to have been the lead of the 1990s television show Roswell, despite not looking anything like Jason Behr (I’m assuming they were referring to that Roswell). Time and space begins to become muddled and disproportionate, and, expectedly, the friends start freaking out. The film attempts to grapple with quantum physics, and the famous Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment is evoked.

From a technical aspect, the film’s production makes good use of a limited budget. The camera work, jumping around and in constant motion like an anxious person’s eyes swiveling around, trying to solve the mystery, is interesting and at no times too jarring. The lighting, on the other hand, begins fairly jarring before settling into a dim warmth once the narrative necessitates candlelight.

Perhaps most fascinating about this film is its scripting. James Ward Byrkit and Alex Manugin, credited with crafting the story of Coherence, brought the actors in without revealing to them the entire narrative. Instead, they were given brief e-mails and notes for each day of filming (of which there were only five!) and were asked to improvise the majority of their lines. As Byrkit puts it, this kept the actors “in the moment and absolutely engaged in the reality of what was happening” (The Dissolve). Despite this, Byrkit claims to have had an intricate grasp on the story he was trying to tell. The script (or lack thereof) is by far the best part of this film, as it leads to a more fluid experience.

As far as the narrative is concerned, the concept is certainly an interesting one. But the multiversal, interdimensional, whatever-you-want-to-call-it idea becomes strained as the movie goes on. The movie plods along, dwelling on redundant points until (eventually) all Hell breaks loose. But by that point, the question is no longer resting on finding some answer to what is happening to this group of friends. Instead, the question becomes: “why does their situation matter to me?”


The Post-Script

This movie, as a premise, is great. On paper, it is a thinker with lots of twists and turns that could take the characters in many different directions. In practice, the premise becomes muddled. What could have been a mind-bending mystery is just an interesting film experiment. The outstanding production–only five nights of shooting, limited scripting, well-handled cinematography–outshines anything that the story itself is trying to bring to the table. A retooling of the narrative may have made this a “Love it.” film for me. But as it sits with me now, I wouldn’t be interested in analyzing this movie any further.

All of this said, Byrkit as a director has got my attention. I want to see what else he can do with film form given a larger budget. I’m looking forward to his next film, whatever it may be.




As always, thanks for reading!


Have you seen Coherence? If so, what did you think? Did I get it wrong? Did I miss something fundamental in the narrative of the film that would warrant a second viewing? Let me know in the comments.

–Alex Brannan

@TheAlexBrannan on Twitter

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