Coherence – Day Four at the Sarasota Film Festival

Long ago (1939) famed mystery novelist Agatha Christie wrote a book called And Then There Were None. The premise was simple. A number of people are invited to an isolated location – and one by one they are murdered. This proved to be such a popular mystery device that this one book was made into a film twice – Once in 1945 under the same title as the book, and again in 1965 as Ten Little Indians. Many other films, using the idea of multiple murders in one location became a familiar and often used film staple.

The format has evolved over the years. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s straightforward murders, with a specific motive, turned the corner and got darker as they became senseless horrific crimes. The era of the slasher movie brought forth films like the Jason Series (Friday the 13th), the Halloween series, and the Nightmare on Elm Street Series featuring Freddy.

In those films, like the Christie novel. people were still inspired, influenced, or simple chose to go to a specific place, and then one by one, they were murdered. The difference was that rather than emphasizing the mystery, the emphasis was on blood and gore – the major components of violent horror.

But in this decade, the format has once again evolved. In a popular 2011 film, we start with 4 mature adults meeting to discuss an issue involving their children. This film was directed by Roman Polanski and starred Jody Foster, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, and John C Reilly. This time the savagery changed from physical to verbal. The damages inflicted were not accompanied by blood. No one died. The film was set in a small apartment in Brooklyn. The title was Carnage.

Last night at the Sarasota Film Festival, I watched a film called Coherence. Written and directed by James Ward Byrkit – we had eight people gathered for a dinner party. The opening was of a woman driving to the party. She is speaking on a cell phone to what was likely a former lover who told her that he was bringing his new girl friend to the party. Okay.

Alex Manugian as Amir

Alex Manugian as Amir

Seconds later, the gorilla glass on this woman’s cell phone cracks and major fissures appear on the phone’s screen. No, she didn’t drop the phone. She was simply holding it in her hand.

Elizabeth Gracen as Beth

Elizabeth Gracen as Beth

She arrives at the dinner party. It doesn’t really matter where the party is, but apparently they all know each other, and there was an event that was going on in the sky that night. The Miller Comet was passing overhead and would be visible. Soon the talk (standard dinner party chatter) turned in the direction of the effects of comets on people.

Emily Foxler as Em

Emily Foxler as Em

From there we continue until there’s a blackout – a complete loss of power, and the place is plunged into darkness. Candles and light wands come into play, so we are not in total darkness. Eventually they decide to see what is going on in the area. The blackout has hit every home but one – and it stands brightly lit a few blocks away. Two of the men decided to go to that house, and possibly use a phone, as no one’s cell phone works either.

Hugo Armstrong as Hugh

Hugo Armstrong as Hugh

And so begins Coherence. Like Carnage, what begins with normal people conversing, soon alters course. People’s manners begin to change. Tempers flare. Mean spirited things are said. This on top of some delightful elements of a mysterious nature that begin to occur.

Lauren Maher as Laurie

Lauren Maher as Laurie

We watch, and we are put in a quandary. While the onscreen people know each other – we know none of them. The mysterious and curious events begin to happen at an increased pace.

Byrkit has delivered a rather well done film. Operating within the small confines of a single home, with occasional moments out-of-doors, we and the film’s characters are all stumbling around without knowledge of what has happened. Distrust edges its way into the film. The people are on edge, as questions of what is going on continue to mount in importance and rise towards the outskirts of concern and worry, and soon – we, and the characters begin to question their present reality.

Lorene Scafaria as Lee

Lorene Scafaria as Lee

I think that Byrkit builds his puzzle slowly as well as superbly. Things happen and we have no explanations. Knockings at the door, notes are found, among other things. And continuously and ominously civility begins breaking down.

Maury Sterling as Kevin

Maury Sterling as Kevin

We are given clues (watch carefully) that not everyone in the house is the same person who we started with. Dopplegangers? Alternate realities? Has the X-Files dropped in to join the party? Or maybe it is The Twilight Zone? Are they inebriated? Have they been drugged? It is unnerving, and then we start thinking of words like paranormal, and phrases like – I don’t have a clue and they don’t have a clue. The slope isn’t just slippery, it also rises, falls, and in some instances appears to loop back on itself. We are clearly stepping into something for which explanations are not readily available.

Nicholas Brendon as Mike

Nicholas Brendon as Mike

We get deeper and deeper into unexplained or inexplicable events and we lose our bearings. I enjoyed the sensation of thinking that I am watching this film and yet, while I am not a participant, I am involved. We can’t explain what is happening even though we apparently know a bit more than the characters do.

The cast includes no front line actors. You may recognize some of the actors, as they’ve had roles on tv series, but the lack of recognition is a plus. Simply because we haven’t any expectations. Plus there’s another strong factor. Much of the dialogue was improvised. The actors were only given an outline before specific scenes. This leads to making the party very realistic. People talk at the same time, some on-screen, and some just out of the frame. The camera moves to pick up the visual of the characters, just as we do in real life when we are at dinner parties.

From the Coherence website –

On the night of an astrological anomaly, eight friends at a dinner party experience a troubling chain of reality bending events. Part cerebral sci-fi and part relationship drama, COHERENCE is a tightly focused, intimately shot film that quickly ratchets up with tension and mystery.

Watch for the film to open as a summer release. There is a bit of violence, and a few drops of blood but these are only a small part of the fissures and cracks that appear in the fabric of civilized behavior, and mirror the cell phone screen from the opening. I think that the characters lose their way, and so do we. But for sure, it was a fun ride. As I left the theater, I found that I had no answers. Only questions. Recommended, if mind-bending and puzzling films are your taste.

Four point zero out of five.

Check out the trailer:

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