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Coherence

Year: 2013
Production Co: Bellanova Films
Director: James Ward Byrkit
Writer: James Ward Byrkit

Sometimes there's nothing worse than a sci-fi movie that builds a really interesting world and has a great concept that's going to bring it all together but blows the secret too early. This film not only does that, the characters accept the incredible thing that's going on a bit too readily.

That's the only complaint I have about this otherwise very neat, nifty and well executed movie. A group of liberal Middle American friends are gathered for a dinner party, the only unusual thing going on is the comet passing close to the Earth overhead that night.

If you read some descriptions of the plot (on the Wikipedia page, for example), it gives the whole game away by framing the story within the phenomenon going on, but it'd be a shame to have it spoilt for you even though the film itself gives it away a bit early.

It starts with a power outage. Although not normally something that should frighten a bunch of educated urban citydwellers, it brings with it an air of menace that puts everyone on edge. They can see one house down the street with lights still on, so two of the guys go down to see if they have a working phone (in time-honoured sci-fi fashion, nobody has a signal – as one of the gathering says, his brother's an astrophysicist and has talked before about unexplained meteorological phenomena the comet might cause.

While they're gone, more weird things start happening. It seems like someone's prowling around outside. A box is left on the front doorstep containing a table tennis paddle and photos of everyone at the party, each with a number on the back. There's a loud bang when someone knocks on the window but there's nobody there. Somebody smashes one of their car's windows. One of the guys who left for the other house returns with a bloodied head and no idea why everyone's asking why he took so long.

If you didn't know better you'd think it was a Bad Robot movie, so effective is it at setting up a mystery with a lot of disparate and seemingly unconnected parts and clues. But the thing writer/director James Ward Byrkit does aside from just revealing clues is do so with an air of descending dread, as if the group is lost at sea in the middle of the night with sharks all around.

The visual motif of the glowsticks you remember if you saw the trailer serves two purposes – it's a clever way of distinguishing the characters during the many scenes shot in darkness (both between themselves and other people they encounter when they fearfully venture outside), and it's simply an arresting sight on screen.

It all adds up to a rather delicious set of gags and riddles you can't wait to learn the mystery behind. Meanwhile tempers fray and everyone wonders if everyone else is ganging up to play an elborate and scary prank, but the truth is much more unexpected, making the movie far purer sci-fi than it looks on the surface.

But what really sells it is the realism of the dialogue and characters that deliver the narrative. There's nothing crafted or overly 'written' about any of the people or what they say, and it seems like Byrkit wanted to anchor his idea in the realest of real worlds as his characters gossip, whisper, argue and talk over the top of each other, all of it sounding like real conversation that effortlessly conveys the mood and dynamic of the group.

Another entry into the thrilling modern catalogue where, constrained with low or no budget, directors are reverting to the old days when science fiction was about the idea rather than the flashy effects.

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