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A dinner party turns into a struggle for survival in experimental COHERENCE

COHERENCE (James Ward Byrkit, 2014)
Village East Cinemas
181-189 Second Ave. at 12th St.
Opens Friday, June 20

A dinner party enters The Twilight Zone as a comet approaches and inexplicable things start happening in James Ward Byrkit’s inventive directorial debut, Coherence. Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and other sci-fi classics (and reminiscent of Todd Berger’s 2012 underappreciated It’s a Disaster!), Byrkit’s has created an intriguing experimental film about love and life, relationships and survival, shot in five nights in his own living room with no script. When the power goes out in every house but one in the neighborhood, Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Amir (story conceiver Alex Manugian) go to investigate, but when they return, it’s hard for everyone else to believe what they claim to have seen, especially when they open the box that they found. Soon everyone is questioning what is real and what is not as their very existence is held up to theoretical existential mirrors and their discussion turns to Schrödinger’s cat, quantum decoherence, and other complex ideas. The story does get convoluted at times but never gets completely incoherent as Hugo, Amir, Em (Emily Foxler), Kevin (Maury Sterling), Laurie (Lauren Maher), Lee (Lorene Scafaria), Mike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Nicholas Brendon, whose character claims to have starred on Roswell), and Beth (Elizabeth Gracen) try to figure out just what the hell is going on. One of the reasons why the film works is that the actors know only so much more than the audience. Coherence is mostly improvised; each actor occasionally received a notecard from Byrkit (who cowrote, storyboarded, and provided multiple voices in Gore Verbinski’s Rango) advising them of a specific line to say or general theme to explore but leaving most of the details up to them. Thus, the actors didn’t know where the narrative would lead either, which allowed them to express genuine shock or surprise at the numerous plot twists. It’s a unique conceit that adds to the fun, but it takes expert editing by Lance Pereira and handheld shooting by Nic Sadler and Arlene Muller to keep it all together. Coherence is a gripping puzzle that will have you thinking twice the next time a comet approaches — and the next time you’re invited to a dinner party with friends.

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