Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cerebral sci-fi done smart, creative (and cheap): James Ward Byrkit's reality-bending COHERENCE

Oh, dem comets! If one of 'em is expected to make an appearance in a genre film, you just know things are gonna go baaaad! Remember Night of the Comet? (Yeah: the early zombie movie.) Or Day of the Triffids? (That was just a meteorite shower, but still...) Or the wonderful Spanish film The End (Fin), in which our ensemble watches a comet blaze overhead, and suddenly every-thing goes quietly kaplooey. You can now add COHERENCE to the comet-calamity sub-genre, for this new and relatively bracing sci-fi film show us what happens at a dinner party comprised of six guests plus host and hostess when said icy, small solar system body suddenly heats up, races by and displaces -- or maybe just re-jiggers -- the known (but ever-expanding) laws of physics.

Writer/director James Ward Byrkit (shown at left), whose first full-length film this is (except for one TV movie he directed back in 2001), takes the menacing comet scenario and does something pretty different with it. He turns it into a sci-fi/man-woman relationship drama/ thriller done on what looks like an ultra-cheap budget that still proves large enough to sustain his intentions and ambitions.

The film is both interesting and challenging. It's made for genuinely adult movie-goers -- or for older kids who already have some understanding of physics and other of the sciences and who can wrestle a bit with "alternate universe" theories. In this one, you might say, "the other" finally comes home. Coherence is the kind of film in which not only do you not know what is real, neither do you know who.

The movie may remind you of another release from the ever-interesting distributor Oscilloscope, which last year gave us the terrific It's a Disaster, in which friends gather for a brunch rather than a dinner and all hell breaks loose. "Disaster" was primarily a black comedy, and a very good one, Coherence is more a drama or at least a melodrama, in which you must pay sharp attention to things like color, numbers, and especially character.

Though the movie's an ensemble piece, one character stands out from the rest: a young woman named Em, played very well by an actress who used to be known as Emily Foxler but is now going by Emily Baldoni, due, I guess, to a marriage. This is usually a career mistake (remember Robin Wright Penn and Farrah Fawcett Majors?), but in any case, Ms Foxler/Baldoni turns in a most interesting performance. If I ever watch this movie again, I'm going to concentrate on her character throughout, for it's the pivotal one.

Each member of the acting ensemble turns in a good performance (you can see them all listed here), and Mr. Byrkit's writing and direction are generally up to snuff. There is a time midway along, when his characters unbelievably begin behaving more like physicists than everyday people, but this only lasts briefly before they revert to their more human, problematic selves.

To get into the "plot" would be to give away far too much. Sci-fi buffs will need to simply get on board and stay focused during the sometimes bumpy ride that will toss you around but never quite knock you from the saddle. Byrkit's ending is especially toothsome. It's excellent in and of itself, but it also cries out for a sequel. I'll be waiting -- if and when the filmmaker wants to give it to us.

Coherence, from Oscilloscope and running 88 minutes, opens this coming Friday, June 20, in New York (at the Village East Cinema) and Los Angeles (at the Los Feliz 3), and in the weeks to come will hit another ten cities. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and then click on SEE THE FILM, and then keep scrolling down until the playdates appear.

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