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Total Crap: 7.69%

2 reviews, 1 rating

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by Eric Lefenfeld

"Our the middle, front, and back of our street."
3 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2013: The comet is the most marginalized of otherworldly cinematic threats, the red-headed stepchild forever standing in the shadow of more asteroids and alien invasions than one can count. Perhaps it's rooted in the ancient suspicion of comets as harbingers of doom, but they tend to bring forth threats that mine a richer vein than just any old giant meteor. Space vampires, worldwide vaporization, and sentient/homicidal vehicles all have comets as their shared source, so it's a shame to see that the sub-genre has been relatively dormant in recent years, and for no particularly good reason. It's a pleasant surprise, then, to see a smaller film like "Coherence" not only pick up the comet gauntlet, but actually craft a grounded and (mostly) clever tale of creeping paranoia.

It all begins with a dinner party amongst a group of friends -- friendships, of course, that are rife with unspoken tension. (Has there ever been a dinner party in a film that doesn’t include at least one buried secret?) A comet passes overhead, as scheduled. Not quite as planned is the loss of power and the mysterious cracking of several cell phone faces. There’s one house nearby that still has power, so a couple of the party-goers head over to investigate. They return a short while later, visibly shaken and eventually revealing that the house they went to visit is somehow the same house from which they came, complete with different versions of themselves sitting inside. To say much more is to ruin some of the surprises in store, but fans of a certain cardboard box-centric episode of "Futurama" should have some idea of where the story proceeds.

Each character tends to embody a standard archetype: the shrill, chemically adjusted older woman and her too-inquisitive know-it-all husband; the level-headed ingenue who takes the initial steps in figuring out what’s going on; the would-be seductress; and the washed-up alcoholic TV star ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alum Nicholas Brendon gamely playing a thinly-veiled version of himself). However, there’s a flowing natural quality to the dialogue (a good chunk of which is overlapping, which would be the case at a party) over the course of the first act that softens these roughly drawn stereotypes into something human. It’s a touch that pays off when paranoia about each others’ identities kicks in and some start behaving in less than admirable ways. These might not be the most sympathetic folks around, but so what? It’s always bothersome when relatability, or lack thereof, is used as a caveat in judging fictional characters. Fact is, there are unlikeable people in the world -- not every movie can (or should) be about Atticus Finch.

The characters (and the audience) are not kept in the dark for long about what brought about these doppelgangers, and once all the cards are on the table, the film swiftly moves exactly in the direction one would expect. This is not a complaint, mind you. Part of the enjoyment is seeing this somewhat standard arc of mistrust and paranoia played out within the small scale of a dining room as the lackadaisical, overlapping dialogue shifts into blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em muttered asides and shifty glances. There’s enough clever bits of simple multi-dimensional shenanigans (most effective is a running thread involving a collection of multi-colored glow-sticks), to keep the audience on their toes, and by the time the film has moved into straight-on thriller territory, the transition has felt earned.

If "Coherence" commits one sin, it’s thinking it’s smarter than it actually is. It wants so badly (and comes admirably close) to nailing the grounded, creeping dread of something like Primer, but that tone is diluted by actions at crucial moments that would be more appropriate in a slasher film than the relatively realistic take on quantum physics for which Coherence strives. Yes, the plot needs to somehow be set in motion, and there’s no arguing that the characters have to have a plausible reason for going outside in order for the dimension-hopping to ensue, but the half-assed explanation for why they need to leave the house in the first place really doesn’t make much sense outside of its driving forward of the plot. Similarly, the appearance of an incredibly helpful book (complete with added notes explaining everything that’s going on) is just too much of a deux ex machina to be swallowed completely, especially as it takes on more and more significance over the course of the story.

These bits are somewhat distracting, but not glaringly so, and they never ruin the enjoyment of the film. "Coherence" is small, but it knows its own boundaries and strives to work within them rather than biting off more than it can chew, proof that a fresh premise combined with simple (but tight) direction can trump both budgetary restrictions and the occasional gap in logic.

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originally posted: 09/22/13 12:32:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2013 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Miami International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Miami International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Sun Valley Film Festival For more in the 2014 Sun Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Sarasota Film Festival For more in the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Louisiana International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Louisiana International Film Festival series, click here.

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3/19/15 Langano Waste of time. 1 stars
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