If your love of watching psychologically twisted films can only compete with a thirst for reading late-night Reddit theories about their endings — looking at you,fans — I have a request.
Please stop endlessly scrolling on whatever streaming service you’ve been staring at, pop on Amazon Prime and watch 2013’s low-budget sci-fi flick Coherence ASAP — it’s free for subscribers, right now. I know. I just watched it… for the fourth time.
The initial premise of Coherence is fairly simple. A few friends meet up for a dinner party the same night a mysterious comet is scheduled to fly overhead. It begins as many indie movies do, with a troubled love story, tension between exes and witty banter.
Then the power goes out. It gets weird. Act two.
Inexplicable events ensue while the ensemble of characters scramble to restore the power. Nothing is as it had seemed. Some start to doubt where they are, others are more concerned with who they are. This isn’t a movie about longtime pals’ small talk. It’s a tale about them coming face-to-face with the terrifying truth of their reality.
If I share any more, I’d be risking massive spoilers about the shocking revelations uncovered during the film. I can assure you, though, that the onscreen confusion is potent enough to force you to question your own sanity.
I’m only mildly exaggerating.
The next hour or so overflows with plot twists that could rival those of 2010’s Shutter Island. The film also expertly alludes to scientific — and rather philosophical — concepts that have probably crossed the mind of the late Stephen Hawking.
Coherence ties together the social, personal and existential consequences that would arise from a complex theory of space and time with a heart-thumping mystery. Speckled with red herrings, easter eggs and a few ambiguities, Coherence is arguably one of the most mind-bending sci-fi films I have ever seen.
And trust me, I’ve gone down several sci-fi IMDB lists, diligently watching them in order.
Perhaps I can sell you with the fact that Coherence, which occasionally verges on horror, was made with a scarce budget of just $50,000 and shot over a mere five days. For context, Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 film, Gravity, was made with $100 million.
I’ve recently been binge-watching low-budget sci-fi movies because I have found that what these films lack in theatrics, they overcompensate for in story. Shoutout to Operation Avalanche (2016), Another Earth (2011) and Primer (2004).
Coherence, however, was the film that started my journey.
Interstellar may have offered the striking image of a giant, iconic wave that nearly wipes out the main characters to the tune of Hans Zimmer. The Martian likely stole your heart with its stunning portrayal of an arid Mars amid a blanket of fog. And Arrival might’ve been the first time you cried over a shadowy alien doing some inky-looking sign language.
But Coherence elegantly tells the story of a group of friends grappling with actuality, navigating the frightening turns that reality can take — without the help of CGI, from only one location and with just the sounds of the actors’ voices.
Director James Ward Byrkit even decided to forgo a script for the quietly experimental film. “Each day, instead of getting a script, the actors would get a page of notes for their individual character, whether it was a backstory or information about their motivations,” he told IndieWire.
Because the actors were left in the dark about how the story unfolds, any stress and perplexity in their performances is authentic. The film’s chaotic disarray was actually happening during the movie’s filming.
Coherence will keep you guessing along with the actors, elicit audible gasps and make you feel a bit like a sci-fi spy. Hours after the credits roll, you might well experience chills as previously overlooked clues and nuances slowly wash over you.
In fact, I just got goosebumps thinking of that one scene. You’ll know which one.