United States. Directed by James Ward Byrkit. Starring Emily Foxler, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon. 89 minutes.
“What would do me head in is…does he think the same way, look the same way…how would I know which one I was?”
—Karl Pilkington, when asked about how he would respond to meeting his own doppelgänger
That seems…familiar. Where do I know it from?
Oh, I remember! Back at the beginning of June, I reviewed +1, a movie about a college student whose relationship woes are complicated further when a cosmic event creates a slightly 0ut-of-sync alternate timeline “incoherent” from the original (that is, inhabitants of both timelines can interact with each other) at a party.
Now we’ve got Coherence, a movie about a woman whose relationship woes are complicated further when a cosmic event (a passing comet) creates something something…
I’ll try to keep the +1 comparisons to a minimum, but many parallels exist between the two films and I really can’t ignore them, especially considering I just saw +1 like a little over two months ago.
Nor am I accusing one film of being a ripoff of the other. They’re hardly the exact same movie. +1 is about teenagers, Coherence about adults; +1 is ironic, Coherence thoughtful; +1 is largely a horror story, Coherence science-fiction. But, overall, they use the same themes, tropes, and motifs, and largely seem to be saying the same thing.
If +1 crosses Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Can’t Hardly Wait, then Coherence takes the same starting point, but uses the mumblecore relationship drama as its modulating factor. The “relationship drama” bit means that the science fiction elements are going to take a back-seat to character interaction and development.
The “mumblecore” bit means that, if you’re me, you’re going to have problems figuring out exactly how all these things connect because, Jesus Christ, everybody talks at once in this movie. I’m not entirely sure exactly what caused the tension between protagonist Em and her boyfriend (or maybe husband) Kevin, or why the revelation that Mike had slept with Beth was so important, but I expect I’d probably have a better grasp of the dynamics if the actors weren’t always talking or screaming over each other all the time.
I felt a lot of antipathy towards the characters, partially because of the “not being able to track relationships” thing, and partially because I don’t feel that the characters were developed well enough. Em is the lead character, Beth is the New Agey homeopath, Mike is a mostly-forgotten actor from a ’90s cult TV show, Hugh is Beth’s rational husband, Kevin is with Em, Amir is the guy who isn’t Mike or Kevin, and Laurie is Mike’s wife who wears glasses. That’s about the best you’ll get to know any of them.
Luckily, the cast brings personality to the characters to compensate, particularly Emily Foxler Baldoni as Em, Elizabeth Gracen (Miss America 1982, and Amanda from the Highlander franchise) as Beth and Hugo Armstrong as Hugh. (Yup, another movie where most of the characters are named, in one way or another, for their actors.)
Nicholas Brendon is fun to watch as Mike, although the ironic connection between actor and character is so obvious that I had to wonder if he was essentially playing himself. (Brendon played Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fans of Buffy, and people who hate Buffy but are more conversant with the damn thing than they ever wanted to be because they had to edit three seasons’ worth of episode recaps, need no explanation. Everybody else: just take my word for it that there’s a meta aspect to the casting that you’re not going to get. It’s not that important, and you can live with it.)
Alex Manugian (Amir) and Lorene Scafaria (Laurie) also turn in engaging performances…even though Laurie’s act-long nap seems to be the product of the writers not knowing what to do with her, despite trying to turn said nap into a minor plot point.
But oddly enough, despite the character-centric nature of the script, storytelling is the most compelling reasons to watch Coherence. Overall, it has the vibe of a classic Twilight Zone story, featuring solid pacing, intelligent plot development and a few genuinely clever twists…along with one, I have to admit, that I totally saw coming but might not have if I hadn’t watched +1 so recently.
Director–and, with Manugian, co-writer–James Ward Byrkit holds to a visual style best described as “boilerplate mumblecore”: about as artistic as shooting a home movie on your dad’s camcorder, with plenty of shaky-cam, although to his credit he manages to keep the shots in focus most of the time. On the plus side, he keeps the paranoia ratched up to a good level, and some of the visual motifs are truly inspired (the glowsticks are a stroke of genius).
Coherence is a good, albeit not great, doppelgänger thriller–although, admittedly, some of the stylistic elements, along with the film’s slight resemblance to another recently-released picture–block my enjoyment, so possibly it’s actually great and I just don’t realize it.
And, at any rate, I had better get used to doppelgängers, because I have Enemy and The Double coming soon…