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In Praise of Coherence or Decoherence
Coherence is one of the most frequently recommended movies on this site - it goes without saying it is one of the best indie film mind jobs ever made. It is definitely in the same league as Shane Carruth's Primer. IMDB
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4.5Overall Score
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It is truly rare – no, actually, this never, ever happens, now that I think about it – that movies are compared to Primer. Maybe if its a time travel movie the review will make reference to the greatest time travel movie ever. But generally speaking no one in their right mind compares a movie to anything Shane Carruth has crafted. It just isn’t smart.  Everyone comes out more worse for the wear.  But here’s where that whole tendency changes. Because right here, in our laps, really is a movie that we have got to investigate.

I found out about Coherence by accident.  It was in a random list of movies that people were dissing because it was a talkie.  Which immediately perked my ears up. Mainly because they list was created by nerds that just want stuff to blow up.  And then to hear them say that its just a talking head movie probably meant that it was worth investigating.  So I dug a little bit and found out that it was an experimental movie that was highly intellectual, and based on the premise of Schrodinger’s Cat. Ok, now I’m really interested because who doesn’t love a movie based on a paradox? And then the thing just pushed me over the edge was what I mentioned above, the fact that pretty much everyone reviewing the movie was comparing it to Primer.

At first as I was watching the movie I was most intrigued by the flow and cadence of the conversation and the script.  It was really unlike anything I had ever seen before. Then as the cats began to show themselves I was more intrigued by the man behind the curtain and where he was going with all of this.  And the next thing I knew, I had a whole house full of roulette wheels spinning out a veritable plethora of cats this way and that.  So, my mind went into overdrive trying to understand the ins and outs of  this movie and just how could it be that such a good movie could be hitting the market without any sort of noise or fanfare?

The Creation of Coherence

An individual by the name of Ward Byrkit was the think tank behind this particular movie.  I tell you his name because he basically has zero film credits on his resume. He’s spent time working for Gore Verbinski in the art department. He also did a voice in Rango.  But besides that he is a Hollywood outsider.  So Ward is sitting in the art department and he’s thinking… hrm.  “I wonder what would happen if I created a movie without a crew… and without a script.” Literally. (So literally, I just quoted him.)  Oh, and by the way, not only that, but he wondered if he could also shoot the movie for free?

The next logical step for Byrkit was to connect with a few people he’d worked with before and then reach out to a few actors.  Byrkit then wrote character cards on 3×5’s that he handed out to each of the characters.  And then he let it rip.  The actors knew so little about what was going to happen as far as plot and dialogue, that Byrkit had to say to them all, “Look, no matter what happens, just keep going… trust me, you will not be hurt.  I will not let you get injured.  Just keep going.”  Hahaha!  Wouldn’t that wig you out completely?  I would be wound as tight as a drum with that kind of a prompt.  It apparently worked so well, that there was a surprising knock at the door… wait, just check this out.  This is just a small snippet of an interview out at Fantastic Fest that I highly recommend reading in full:

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James Ward Byrkit: Do you remember the first night we did it? The test night when you really didn’t know there was going to be the knock on the door.

Emily Baldoni: Oh my gosh, all my screams are real in this movie. Yeah, I do remember that. I screamed out loud because my back is towards the door and we’re just talking and we just have some notes on what to talk about and we’re doing our thing. Then all of a sudden there’s that knock on the door and I remember just being terrified.

James Ward Byrkit: And they didn’t know the lights were going to go out. They didn’t know any of that was going to happen. All they knew is I said, “Trust me. Even if it gets tense, you just have to trust me. I’m not going to do anything that hurts you.” I didn’t want a rebellion, so I was nervous how they were going to respond to it because it got very, very, very tense when the lights go out.

Emily Baldoni: It did.

James Ward Byrkit: And then very tense when Amir left you guys alone, and then the knocks came and I could not believe how much people freaked out at that.

The Plot – Well, there’s a… and a… Let me come in again. So these people.  In this place.  Are like, totally… and then the other people are like… woah… and stuff.

Everything’s a spoiler in this movie.

Alright, let me try one last time.  As the movie opens, there are eight friends who have gathered for a dinner party of some sort. Occasionally a reference is made to a comet and that its having weird effects on things.  These comments are shrugged off as we meet the characters.  The main character is Em (Emily Foxler), who is way way more concerned about the fact that Laurie (Lauren Maher – noticing a thing with the names yet?) is at this party then anything else because Laurie was Kevin’s (Maury Sterling) ex-girlfriend.  Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) is constantly on about the feng shui of the house and this door that leads to absolutely nowhere.  While Mike (Nicholas Brendon) is an ex lead actor for the show Roswell (fictionally, because in real life he was an actor for the show Buffy The Vampire Slayer).  But Laurie doesn’t recognize him at all… even though she was a total fan of the show.

You get the idea.  So, even though the movie lacked a script, there was an overarching plot that Byrkit had cleverly created before hand.  The actors weren’t apprised of it.  But he definitely was the puppet master leading these characters on this journey.  In Byrkit’s own home no less.  But Byrkit wanted to make the movie and his home seem bigger than it really was so he came up with a “Twilight Zone” style of a movie idea and then everything poured out from there.

The Dialogue

I have made a pretty big deal about dialogue here on my blog.  Nothing is more important to me than a truly great bit of dialogue.  Two people walking along the Seine?  Meh.  Two people walking along the Seine with brilliant dialogue?  Count me in!  I’ve even gone so far as to count out a few really great dialogue movies for you to consider the next time you are staring at Amazon, and you are trying to decide what to stream.  Byrkit couldn’t agree with me more apparently because he took the script, and burnt it.  Then he let the actors stumble a bit, and run in circles a bit.  In a word he let them converse.  For real.  And it shows.  Because it is brilliant.  And yet the editor (Lance Pereira) never allowed them to look stupid or like they are flailing even for a minute.  In fact, this is one of the tightest, well honed plots in recent memory.

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Conclusion

This is my kind of a movie.  Which basically means its probably your kind of movie.  Its smart.  Its driven.  Its very very tight in its idea and execution.  The acting was a completely different level of authenticity because it wasn’t a Hollywood formula.  And ultimately it was the premise… the cats, that really send this move over the edge for me.  This is an amazing movie.  There wasn’t anything here not to like.

And yet, I’ve seen many people calling it out as a talkie.  So maybe I’m rare.  Except that Rotten Tomatoes is giving it a whopping 84%.  But to garner an 84% on a budget that was less than a used Prius for the initial shoot?  Unbelievable.  Which basically means that Byrkit is going to be a force to be reckoned with for a long time coming.  I’m pretty excited anyway.  Watch out for the coming of my spoiler laden walk through of this evanescent movie.  That is going to be a good time.

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13 Responses

  1. Ian Scaife

    Finally got to see this last night. Wow!!! Loved it, but still processing it. Definitely an interesting companion piece to Primer.

    Have you been able to see Timecrimes yet?

    Kind regards

    Ian Scaife

    Reply
  2. Taylor Holmes

    Hey there Ian,
    Yeah, I had had it on my list for a while now, but only just sat down and did it after your comment. Thanks for pushing me over the edge. Appreciate it. Need to do a review of it. Pretty fun little film. Reminds me of Predestination sort of with how tight the narrative is. Interesting flick.

    Taylor

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey Rebecca
      So sorry I missed this comment. As I mentioned to Grom just a sec ago, I did a full tear down of the movie here If you are interested: http://taylorholmes.com/2015/06/19/movie-coherence-explained-and-interview-with-director-james-ward-byrkit/

      But I’ll tell you here too. It was Em on Kevin’s voicemail. The happy Em that our main Em tried to kill in the bathroom. ‘What does he mean by HAPPY EM’ I hear you saying. She was the Em that said yes to Kevin’s request to go to Paris. Right? She was the one that didn’t hesitate, or not answer and therefore, say no. Our Em was looking for that Em that said yes, so she could take over that life with Kevin. But that all goes to crap when she is found out on the voicemail.

      Hopefully that makes sense!
      Taylor

      Reply
  3. Gromm

    Late comment, but I just recently discovered the film. Looking up reviews after watching the film, I found your website as well as a review that appeared on VillageVoice.com (http://www.villagevoice.com/film/coherence-is-just-another-dinner-party-apocalypse-6442183).

    I wonder what your thoughts are about that reviewer’s comments. I don’t mean his comments about the film’s quality. Obviously fans like you and me who were mesmerized by the film don’t agree with him on that. But he did make a very interesting and imho valid comment in the last paragraph.

    Here’s the relevant quote: “[Coherence] does offer a vivid and perhaps intentional satirical portrait of L.A. culture, where solid identities swap and get lost and seem always just out of reach. “We can’t trust ourselves,” someone says deep in, and the L.A. feeling of intoxicated unconnectedness, of being somewhere that’s really nowhere, may not have a more concise cinematic analogue.”

    Imho this reading adds yet another layer to a film I already greatly appreciate. I wouldn’t say the film is being “satirical” with it, but the examination of “hunting for the continually elusive most perfect version of our life” is imho definitely intentional, since lines like “we can’t trust ourselves” are woven into the dialogue throughout the film.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey there Gromm,
      Thanks for the comment. Just spent like twenty minutes banging out a response with my thumbs on an iPad when I got overly clever and lost the whole ream of brilliance. Bah. Anyway, first things first, I recently released my full tear down of this movie that you might find interesting… Like 3,000 words of rabbit holeness. But it’s the last 800 that are the money shot if you want to skip to the love. I also interviewed Byrkit as well and he made me aware of stuff that helped me uncover the money shot.

      Which – leads you to say to yourself, who cares? – save for the fact that you are right on with your thoughts about us searching for that perfect self and that perfect choice. Byrkit told me straight out that Em isn’t looking for Kevin Prime. She’s looking for the Kevin she said yes too… The happy Em. The happy Kevin. Which speaks exactly to your point. It’s a plague in our society, that we are perpetually unhappy with our lives, while constantly giving off airs that say you are perpetually happy with it. (Facebook and Instagram much?) and what perfect backdrop for this incessant hunting for the perfectness of life than a Hollywood hills dinner party? I adore that layer added on top of all the existential chaos that’s so much more obvious. Why? Because imposter Em gets owned in the end. (Imposter is a funny thing to call the one Em we watch the whole movie long. She is the most real character we have to relate to.) and yet she is the one that tries to kill the happy version of herself. Instead of picking an unhappy Kevin and fixing it by apologizing, she attempts to kill happy Em and take her life.

      Gorgeously played good sir.
      Taylor

      Reply
  4. zern

    Compare it to Primer all you want, fair enough, it does take a several pages out of Primer’s book, but this flick is nowhere near as good. Doesn’t come close. Nowhere. Near.
    The concept I agree is an interesting base for a plot, but the story… but the characters… Are probably some of the most non-gripping ones I’ve seen in a picture. I just couldn’t really give a damn about them. They keep freaking out and do the stupid things without stopping for a sec and getting in their head that THERE IS NO PROBLEM! The whole second act of it I just wanted to give them a round face slap because they don’t learn and they don’t reason as normal people would, and now that they’ve finally realized what was going on, all they had to do was relax and wait because evidently, they’re all the exact same people that lived the same lives up until that night, regardless of where they came from. The worst thing that’s happened to them really was the he-slept-with-your-wife-10-years-ago-and-everybody-but-you-knew issue, but at least there was complete set of people in the house! No problem at that point! And then the blond, couldn’t bother to memorize her name, has proven to be the dumbest one of the bunch – not only did she not sat her ass down and waited, she opted to go find the first verse (pointless, because people from it are also scattered at that point, she knows that! so why do that?) and, since she didn’t find the one, she figured hey, there’s a whole lot of walking and no headway here, why don’t I just kill my other self from some other verse? Seriously?! Do you really think a normal person would have such motivation for a murder? If she was ready to kill to live in any reality just so that she would be the only one there, why didn’t she just stayed? Doesn’t make sense.
    There’s a lot of idiotic things in this movie starting from pushing the explanation of coherence and broken screens over to the flying comet (ugh… the comet… why not the flying fairies?) and finishing with the blond simply putting the corpse in the bath and then walking away from it calmly (as if nobody will ever notice a corpse in the tub of their house!) but the worst part as I’d mentioned is that there’s a potent concept and no believable or gripping story in this movie. Unless you find idiots really compelling.

    Reply
  5. Taylor

    Hey Zern,
    Believe it or not, I have friends that say EXACTLY THE SAME THING about Primer. Granted I popped their tires because of it. But they hated the terrible sound dubbing (which Carrith had to re-do from scratch to even get it that good) and the flat dialogue. I completely disagree, but it is what it is.

    I personally like it when directors take a risk and do something totally different. Sure, the comet is a Deus Ex Machina to end them all. Sure the ad-libbing can show through occasionally, but overall it caught me by surprise as a movie that makes you have to think to follow it. I could argue with you point by point, but I really do not disagree with you. I just abhor avengers 27 and Jurassic Amusement Park 92 so much I’ll take something different every time.

    Why don’t you give me a couple of your favorite films that I’d enjoy. I am seen a bunch of movies, but I am sure you have a golden nugget in there that I haven’t seen yet. Come on, out with it! Hahah. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really do understand where you are coming from.

    Reply
    • zern

      You’ve apparently misunderstood my first paragraph. ‘this flick is nowhere near as good. Doesn’t come close. Nowhere. Near.’ is what I said about Coherence. Everything else is also about it. Now, the Primer is amongst my favourite, most-esteemed films, which is why I went on such an aggressive streak mentioning all the flaws I could recall about Coherence, which from my POV doesn’t hold a candle to it, when I saw them being compared. Coherence looks good and I wouldn’t say anything bad about the acting and whatnot, but the story and the setting, it really feels to me as a third-world-problem film, you know, a bunch of snobs who’s got it made just going nearly (and one of them completely) savage when they face a smallest problem, non-threatening even, and what they do is make it such. Which is why you can’t feel sorry for them! The plot is flat, it makes the sci-fi element irrelevant, throws it at the background.

      As for the films, here’s thee you probably haven’t seen that also explore identity issues.
      Face of Another, Clone Returns Home, Solaris (to hell with that Soderbergh version, I’m talking about Tarkovsky’s 1972 film). And also Moon, which everybody’s seen but it’s worth mentioning.

      Reply
      • Gabriel

        I’m a year and a half later, but I’d like to add that I feel the same as you, Zern. The stupidity really damaged the movie for me. I think the worst of all was their reaction to lights going out.

  6. Raja

    Man , i saw this tonight and the biggest thing was that I accidentally started watching this film,like accidentally opened this film while searching for another . And man does this blow your mind and I definitely think that laurie is not from that reality at the start. The sad thing is no one,literally no one in our country know about these films like primer etc and only know memento because they used its concept in an Hindi film and interstellar because of it’s director’s dark knight.
    by the way the other movie primer, I haven’t seen it yet but heard it’s a total mindf**ker online..

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Raja,
      Stop. What. You. Are. Doing…
      and go watch primer this instant. Then come back and read my review and comment. If you liked this movie, you will adore Primer. I promise you. And also, I agree with you about how little traction these fantastic movies get.

      Taylor

      Reply

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