Guess who’s comet to dinner.
Christopher Nolan’s nogginbusters aside, most Hollywood science fiction today values spectacle over ideas. If you prefer your brain scrambled to your eyes fried, it’s often the indie entries in the genre – films that can’t afford spaceships, explosions, et al – that provide the whisk: Donnie Darko, Cube, Primer, Fermat’s Room, Timecrimes.
James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence is the new headfuck in town. Shot at the director’s house over five evenings, it sees eight friends gather for a dinner party as a comet strafes past Earth. For 20 minutes or so they simply eat, drink and chat, with Nic Sadler’s restless camera doing its best to keep up with the overlapping dialogue. Things are a little odd – phone signals die and Laurie (Lauren Maher) fails to recognise fellow guest Mike (Nicholas Brendon) as one of the stars of TV’s Roswell, despite it being her favourite show – but any surreal touches are counterweighted by the naturalistic tone.
Then the lights go out in the neighbourhood. Two of the male guests set out to call on the one lit house a couple of blocks down, and… well, to say anything more would be to spoil the mind-melting fun.
It’s not every day that a movie concerned with quantum decoherence and the observer effect hits our screens, written and directed by a storyboard illustrator (the first three Pirates Of The Caribbean movies) who confesses to be so adept at solving enigmas, he can name the exact point in Primer where its logic disintegrates and the cheats begin. Chances are you’ll finish Coherence not quite sure what the hell just happened, but trying to keep up is a thrilling experience.
What’s more, far from being an exercise in cerebral masturbation, Byrkit’s paradoxical puzzler attaches its cosmic ideas to an intimate, recognisable scenario, while beneath its sci-fi trappings lurks a human drama about the choices we make and how those choices shape us, define us.
OK, so the fractious bickering can get a bit taxing and the characters are all a little too self-involved for their own good (or rather the good of others). But Coherence is a movie that you’ll yearn to watch again from the moment it ends. In fact, it’s not until a second viewing, forewarned and forearmed, that you can fully appreciate the clues, in-jokes and signposted ramifications that are smuggled into the early exchanges. This is how the world bends, it seems – not with a bang but a series of barely detectable pointers.