The longest-running play ever, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, is set at Monkswell Manor during a snowstorm—all the better for its cozy-mystery trope, the “gathering of suspects.” In James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence, eight friends assemble for a dinner party in a suburban home on the night a comet passes overhead … only for each one to soon suspect that everyone else is not exactly who they seem.
For all its sci-fi premise, thriller build-up, and dissolving-friendship-drama moments, Coherence is, at its unstable core, about our inner fears of fracturing—splitting into strange selves or unstable identities. A quasi-public yet quasi-intimate party, full of playful chatter, paper-thin social masks, liberally poured libations, and spiked with a concocted drug—one friend’s mixture of natural tinctures with ketamine—is the perfect setting for the gradual loss of what you thought you were when you first walked in the door.
As we follow Emily (Emily Baldoni) from her car into Mike’s (Nicholas Brendon) house, then into a cracked hall-of-mirrors, the camerawork creates the illusion of coherence, even clarity. Shallow-focus shots, trained on the faces of these bourgeois, successful pals, build an illusion of banal certainty—a vapid, generic feel arises from all the empty chatter about feng shui or careers or cellphone service. It’s almost as if these people could be any group of white California professionals … until, after the lights go out and a dark zone spreads through the street, it grows eerily, fuzzily possible that they really are any other group of white California professionals.
In a film merging genres even as it plays with time-streams diverging, Coherence toys cleverly with its cast’s generic-ness (plus most character-names echo their actor’s name, while Mike’s an actor and Emily feels like a failed understudy to the more successful Emily she could have been) within an inspired riff on the all-stuck-here-together (and not locked-room but unlocked-house) horror/mystery. As a film-experiment—a directorial debut shot on a micro-budget over five nights with experienced actors mostly improvising—it’s particularly impressive. It does rely on some convenient, almost corny props—glow-sticks, a book on quantum physics—but its sense of cleaving and colliding lives makes for a metaphysical chiller that resonates far beyond its cozy little world.
Sun, Nov 16 – Tue, Nov 25
Metro Cinema at the Garneau