Round up eight friends for a dinner party. Set us up for the usual interpersonal melodramas — this character used to date that one, these two slept together and didn’t tell — and then toss in the comet.
The comet? That’s the sci-fi plot device that makes the power go out and cell phones shatter. That’s the excuse for one character to recite weird bits of comet lore.
And that’s when the eight see one house still has light, way up the street. A couple of them go to check it out. Who do they see? Themselves, or versions of themselves, gathered for this same dinner party, coping with the increasingly odd evening in many of the same ways.
Writer-director James Ward Byrkit concocts a Mobius loop of illogical temporal logic as the people in the first house — ballerina Em (Emily Baldoni), home owner Hugh (Hugo Armstrong), actor Mike (Nicholas Brendon) and the others — puzzle over what is happening, the clues each version of themselves leaves the other, and what to do about it.
“If there’s another version of me, I want to meet him!”
Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), wife of Hugh, references “that movie, ‘Sliding Doors,'” as they speculate on how they might tamper with or choose among the alternate realities they seem to be confronting. Can they undo something their alternate selves have done? Can they mix and match party guests, alternative versions of each other, with the other house? On a dark, confusing night, with only glow sticks (blue for one house, red for the other) and a passing comet to illuminate the gloomy suburban street, how can they avoid that?
How long before the Yahtzee dice come out to introduce true “randomness” to their reasoning? When does the violence start? And is there more wine?
“Coherence” provides the cast with one puzzle and the audience with another. Characters sit and try to reason out the motives for this or that action for the other versions of themselves.
“The other ‘Mike’ is worried about you.”
And the viewer tries to keep track of who is doing what to whom, and where. And when.
Byrkit keeps a lot of the mystery off camera and tells the story, more or less, from Em’s point of view. As curious as the men at the party might be, Em is the one proactive one, playing her cards close to her vest as she does. Baldoni makes her interesting enough for us to identify with her.
But its 87 minutes feel like more of a writing/plotting exercise than a finished, polished film. The one thing “Coherence” needs most is that word that gives it its title.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, adult situations
Cast: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Elizabeth Gracen, Hugo Armstrong, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher
Credits: Written and directed by James Ward Byrkit. An Oscilloscope Laboratories release.