There’s a brainy, low-budget strain of sci-fi that’s hard to find, but a pleasure to watch; Primer, Upstream Color, Enemy, Timecrimes, all of Brit Marling’s output. Lo-fi visuals, sharp writing and big ideas are the common factor, and James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence surfaces on Amazon Prime in a well-timed bid to widen the audience beyond the festival crowds.
Coherence is a doppleganger story; a group of people having a dinner party are interrupted by a comet going overhead; one of the group has heard of a similar incident in Siberia decades ago, which seemed to cause dislocation and disorientation for those in the wake of the celestial apparition. Another part-goer has brought a liquid solution to the party, one that contains ketamine; with confusing reigning, could she have spiked their food and caused mass hallucinations? Either way, the group become aware of another nearby house, and that the inhabitants look and act like them. Or are their reconnaissance parties getting lost and returning to base, thinking they’re looking at a different house?
Coherence keeps the questions coming, Twilight Zone style, and the solutions are complicated and engrossing; the business with the numbered photographs of the guests is a mind-bending conundrum. Byrkit makes this kind of thing look easy, although hasn’t repeated the trick again; Coherence manages to play a tricky hand well, and only goes for visceral punch in the final scenes.
Hustlers director Lorene Scarfaria has a notable acting role here, and the whole cast manage to portray articulate characters who find themselves in an extraordinary situation. Never stepping into camp or parody, Coherence is a straight-faced sci-fi head-trip that hides secrets that are well worth discovering.