James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence is a cramped, quick-paced relationship drama couched in a sci-fi setting. Eight seemingly well-adjusted (and not particularly appealing) forty-somethings gather for a dinner party on the night a comet is passing over their California home. Em (Emily Baldoni) introduces the idea that the comet may be exerting some spooky powers after her iPhone mysteriously cracks while she tries to talk to her boyfriend through a intermittent cell connection. The static continues. Another phone cracks, the lights go out, and soon the four couples are wandering out into a darkened street with glow sticks, wondering where everyone else in the world has disappeared to, and why the only other house on the street looks exactly like their own.
Byrkit shoots his story with a jerky hand held camera, opting often for close-cropping and detail shots. It’s a way to keep the action cramped and nervous, while also pairing with the dialogue’s improvised feel. The result is that we think we’re settling into a horror film a la Paranormal Activity, but it’s a bait and switch. The deeper things get and the weirder the situation becomes, the more Coherence feels like it’s really trying to use its sci-fi setting to demarcate the ebb and flow of personal relationships, emotional fidelities, and senses of self. It’s ambitious in principle, but not very effective in practice. Instead we’re left a murky psychological freak-out by film’s end which feels as surface and circumventive as the dinner conversation.