*Editor’s note: Derek Botelho, friend of Icons of Fright and author of the newly-released book ‘The Argento Syndrome’ took this one on for us.
The feature debut of James Ward Byrkit, COHERENCE is on it surface a quiet drama about relationships between friends and lovers, but quickly turns into something else entirely. If I told you, a mind bending science fiction film, you wouldn’t believe me, but you’d be wrong. Mike (Nicholas Brendon) and his wife Lee (Lorene Scafaria) have thrown a dinner party for six of their friends, and after a comet passes, things get strange very quickly. After a power outage in the area, (due to said comet?) Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Amir (Alex Manugian) go to investigate a house down the street that still has its lights on. Armed with nothing but glow sticks to light the way, they come back with a locked box containing photographs and a ping-pong paddle. To say any more would be criminal, but I will say it would be criminal to not see this film.
Writer/director Byrkit knows the most important things in any story are the characters, and the actors all take them on with great truth and dedication. The ensemble is completely true to their relationships as friends and within their respective marriages. The characters are all dealing with lives unplanned and unknown, in stark contrast with the lives they envisioned, and almost had in some cases: Em, a ballerina who lost a lead role in a production she created, and Mike, an actor who claimed to have been on the T.V. show Roswell, yet we know he was not. The film lives in the real world that we all remember, but turns it inside out and back again as the group struggles with the predicament they find themselves in.
The film has no leading role in a usual sense, yet Brendon shows a side of himself as an actor I had never seen, and stands out perhaps because of the contrast, Scafaria is equally as effective; their relationship feels honest and raw at the right times. Manugian in his relationship with his wife Laurie (Lauren Maher) bring a bit of manic energy and bring a tension to things even before the proceeding careen out of control. Not to get into anything further, the entire cast is fantastic, but to say more about anything may tamper with the film’s power.
Science fiction on screen has moved solely away from the big visual effects spectacles of the past, and it’s nice to see filmmakers embracing a quieter tone. Along with films like Shane Carruth’s PRIMER, and Duncan Jones’ MOON, COHERENCE ushers in a new age of science fiction, focusing on smaller stories, with big ideas. The film begs repeat viewings, and asks its audience to do something many don’t, and that’s to think. Not just to think about what we’re seeing, but also about ourselves, and what we’re doing, who we are, and who we know, and think we know. The script is clever without being condescending, and intricate without being convoluted. In the end, it’s terrifically entertaining, and a great puzzle, in the best way possible.