James Byrkit and the Mindbenders

If you live in Los Angeles or New York, James Ward Byrkit‘s cerebral but quite chilling Coherence is the film to see this weekend. Definitely. Anyone can make an “uh-oh, something’s not right, weird things are happening” movie, but the trick is to make one that doesn’t devolve into the usual screams and shocks and knives and axes. You can call Coherence a sci-fi thriller of sorts, but it’s really about the power of dark suggestion and clever writing and how a talented group of actors can make a preposterous idea feel not just plausible but — this is the really odd part as far as my own reaction was concerned — vaguely threatening.

I watched it last night, alone in a motel room, through a private Vimeo link on my Macbook Air, and I honestly felt a tiny bit creeped out. I made sure the door was locked. I avoided looking in the mirror. I knew this feeling would pass but I was surprised that I felt unnerved in the first place.

A highly engrossing, visually confined, eight-character ensemble piece that’s mostly set in a large living room in a home on a suburban street, Coherence is a metaphysical suspense flick about — I’m perfectly serious — quantum entanglements. Or, if you will, Schrodinger’s Cat. Too pretentious or textbooky? Okay, try this: Byrkit has allegedly said it was inspired by “Mirror Image,” the 1960 Twilight Zone episode about a couple of characters (Vera Miles, Martin Milner) in a bus station who are threatened by doubles who apparently want to take their place. It’s that kind of thing but with a more complex plot and a much more socially sophisticated vibe all around.

I was also reminded of Mike Cahill‘s Another Earth and…I don’t know, portions of Don Siegel‘s original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (’56), I suppose. I never saw Shane Carruth‘s Primer, but others have mentioned it as a similar-type deal.

The concern that the eight characters develop around the 20-minute mark is to protect their corner of the universe and not allow any sort of violation or forced collapse. They have their realm and their mirror selves (who may be myriad) have theirs, but the key thing is not to have any kind of contact. Separate and decoherent. If any kind of contact were to occur a possible erasure or obliteration could occur. Maybe.

Coherence really develops this situation and spreads it out. All kinds of little props and plot hooks come into play. It’s basically a game movie that could fall apart if it wasn’t written just so and if the actors overdid it, but Byrkit has kept the metaphysical ball in the air in a very assured and believable fashion. The film doesn’t stay too far ahead of you or get too loopy or anything.

Some have complained about the ending not cohering. I didn’t mind it at all. You have to end this kind of thing somehow, and the idea that one of the characters might decide to do something drastic in order to cut down on the competition seems entirely reasonable.

The most attractive cast member and the one who has some of the best lines or scenes is Emily Baldoni (formerly Emily Foxler before she got married to Justin Baldoni, who proposed to her in an appalling, egoistically drawn-out, look-at-how-loving-and-sensitive-I-am way, and then posted a shamelessly over-the-top video about the proposal…good fucking God). Her costars are Maury Sterling (who plays her boyfriend), Nicholas Brendon, Elizabeth Gracen, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher Hugo Armstrong and director Lorene Scafaria.

Coherence (which has a very decent Rotten Tomatoes rating as we speak) opens Friday at L.A.’s Los Feliz theatre (I want to see it again with a crowd) and at Manhattan’s Village East. Subsequent regional openings will begin the following week. VOD/streaming options won’t kick in until early August.