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.

  • dkrat

    How have you not seen Primer!

  • brenkilco

    Go watch Primer tonight. The most fascinating mindbender of the last decade, and the whole thing was made for the price of a happy meal. If this movie is even in the same league, I’m there.

    • DuluozRedux

      That whole budget thing is fake. He got tons of shit “donated.” If you added up everything they used to make that film, it was worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Still not big by Hollywood standards, but it was not made for less than 10,000 or whatever ridiculous number they cited.

      • brenkilco

        Granted there was probably some Blair Witch bullshit regarding the budget but the fact remains it’s a mindbender that involves nothing more elaborate than a couple of guys sitting around an office, garage or a living room. No production design to speak of at all except the “box”. No effects. Nothing but ideas really. Some credit is due.

  • zygzag

    you’ve never seen ‘primer’? wow. required viewing

    • Enough with the Primer finger-waggings & admonitions…Christ!

      • DukeSavoy

        Please go immediately to your kitchen drawer, locate two barbecue skewers, preferably stainless steel, and plunge them directly into your eyes right now for failing to see Primer. I mean, you actually missed a Shane Carruth movie? Just what in flaming hell on wheels with a stick shift is wrong with you?

  • DuluozRedux

    Primer had a great first act, okay second act, and fucking terrible third act. Doesn’t help that Carruth is a terrible actor. That whole concept of the party at the end wrecked the movie, absolutely wrecked it.

    • brenkilco

      All time travel movies wind up tripping over their temporal paradoxes eventually, but Primer is both the most complex one I’ve seen and the one that manages to keep the ball in the air longest. And it’s storytelling is so oblique that I’m still not quite sure what Carruth missed and what I missed. Anyway great fun to argue about. And I dont know how to rate the acting. All I’ll say is that Carruth and his costar didn’t seem to me like actors playing engineering wonks. They seemed like real engineering wonks. Which I guess is a compliment.

      • DuluozRedux

        It was pretty good as far as time travel movies go, I’ll grant you that, but it’s not a very high bar. Most time travel movies are ridiculous and make little sense.

        My beef with Primer is the addition of a completely new element in the third act, the party, that all of a sudden is the most important thing in the movie and something everything hinges on. It was stupid, and symptomatic of Carruth being a complete novice. It was a good movie, but not worth all the hype.

        • brenkilco

          The party or perhaps more correctly the parties is/are definitely where it starts to go off the rails. Just how many versions of these guys are there now etc. etc.? But so few movies make the effort to swing for the fences with their stories that I think Carruth deserves a hand even if in the end you think he only fouled one off.

  • JoeS

    What?! You haven’t seen PRIMER!?? WTF??!!

    I’ve seen both PRIMER and COHERENCE, and COHERENCE isn’t half the movie that PRIMER is. Even if you don’t love PRIMER, it is a superbly made micro-indie. COHERENCE is just a micro-indie. It really plays as a short expanded waaaaaaaaaay beyond both the point and limitations of a thin script. In fact, at the screening I attended, one of the actors admitted that they didn’t have a full script, and were just handed out a few notes each day and they winged it. And, it shows.

    COHERENCE is turning out to be the kind of fest favorite that gets head-scratchingly positive reviews for whatever reason.

  • Terry McCarty

    Now I’m looking forward to the Joe Swanberg remake of PERSONA with Emily Baldoni and Brit Marling.