Coherence (2013)

It’s hard to review the movie without spoiling it; it’s one of those where the less you know about the movie going in the better, which was actually the method of its filming – the actors/actresses were not given a script, they were given index cards that only they could see describing their ultimate direction for the scene, and they used that information to improv off of each other.

But while What We Do in The Shadows was filmed similarly to capture comedic organicism, Coherence was filmed this way to create organicism in the growing tension of the film’s sci-fi premise. I have my gripes about the film (discussed below), but overall it was incredibly successful and a compelling and unique film that I’ve already recommended to other people. The cast’s performance is outstanding, and the premise and how it unfolds is fascinating.

At some point as I was watching it with Hannah, I remarked, “this is making me want to make you watch Primer.” The writer/director stated that Primer “…wasn’t really an influence so much as it was a sign to us that maybe there was an audience for this kind of movie.” It’s true that although the overall tone and atmosphere have marked similarities to Primer, the brotherhood of these two films feels connected only loosely in the same way that tomatoes are connected loosely to ketchup.

There are two main gripes I have with the film. The one I can’t talk about is that i’m not particularly fond of the resolution/end.

The one that I can talk about is that the beginning of the movie sets a tone of ordinariness and realism, and when the sci-fi premise is “discovered” (for lack of a better word) by the cast, it felt like they were generally too quick to accept it and there was no true time spent in disbelief. It would be like if the cast were all together in a house and ordered pizza delivery, and the pizza delivery guy was a green alien that got their order wrong. Coherence spent the equivalent of a metaphorical minute focusing on the fact that the pizza delivery guy was a green alien, but after that minute was over, they immediately moved on and started to complain about the wrong order, and the fact that the pizza delivery guy was an alien became commonplace.

I think that’s where the improvisatory and limited-information nature of the film hindered it to a small degree because discoveries like that made the film feel more like watching a group of people trying to get out of an escape room – engaging in the puzzles, riddles, and mysteries out of a competitive spirit but ultimately with no sense of real world stakes or urgency. That transition moment passed and then i was snapped back into the story, but I can’t help but wish that there was one more scene during that moment where the index cards were something like, “You’re struggling to believe that this is real.”

But maybe that had to be balanced with the overall pacing of the movie and passing over that was preferable to sacrificing the development of the intrigue once the sci-fi elements were established. I’ll have to think about that more on a second viewing.

Mendel Lee

I'm a composer, musician, and music educator residing in New Orleans, LA.

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