Feeling Gravity's Pull

Coherence's a smart sci-fi soap opera winner without the big-budget splash of your standard summer flick

When the comet Hale-Bopp passed by Earth in the late nineties, I went out on a camping trip to observe it in the sky. That night, my right shoulder was seized with a great pain, making me unable to sleep and really annoying my jerk girlfriend. The pain went away a couple of days after the comet sighting, and never returned.

At the time, I attributed the pain to the comet's gravitational pull. Upon reflection, I have come to realize that it was due to excessive arm wrestling and, perhaps, stress caused by my jerk girlfriend.

In Coherence, a comet passes close to Earth, and mighty strange things happen at a dinner party, perhaps due to its gravitational pull. Nobody gets massive shoulder pain, but they would probably prefer some muscle aches to what actually transpires.

Writer-director James Ward Bykrit assembles a decent cast of relatively unknown TV actors whose faces you might recognize but names might escape you. At one point, the character of Mike (Nicholas Brendon) discusses how he was an actor on Roswell. Brendon actually played Xander Harris on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, without ever having appeared in Roswell. Intentional or not, this is a pretty funny riff on how a lot of TV performers are serviceable yet interchangeable and forgettable.

Mike is part of an eight-person dinner party that he and his girlfriend Em (Emily Baldoni) are attending as a comet passes close to Earth. Cell phone screens crack, the Internet goes down, and the power goes off, all to the general bemusement of the gathering. They run outside to see the comet and notice one house still has its lights on a couple of blocks away. When they go to see if they can borrow a phone, they make a pretty messed up discovery.

Bykrit comes up with something that is equal parts Twilight Zone, The X-Files and The Young and the Restless. As the movie delves deeper into the dinner party's strange predicament, it gets quite puzzling, and it also has its fair share of well done soap opera elements as some of the characters suffer relationship struggles.

Of the assembled actors, Baldoni fares best with the confused Em. She has the sort of talent and looks that make you wonder why she isn't a bigger star (one of her only big screen credits is a small role in Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past with Matthew McConaughey). Hugo Armstrong is also a standout as the guy in the room who knows a little bit about comets because his brother is a theoretical physicist and sometimes studies them. That proves to be quite the convenience.

Coherence plays with the notions of existing parallel universes, and takes them to quite the extreme. Parts of it play out a little like Back to the Future: Part II without the slapstick. The science of the film is a little iffy, but it's competently executed so it's worth it to just dismiss the stuff that doesn't make total sense and just accept it as kind of cool.

It's worth noting that you could almost watch Coherence twice in the amount of time it takes to watch the new Transformers movie. You could also probably pay for 100 Coherence type films with the Transformers budget. Hey, any chance I get to rag on Michael Bay and Transformers, I'm going to take it.

Congratulations to Bykrit for delivering a low budget sci-fi winner in a summer full of bombast, and for doing it without using the poor man's "found footage" gimmick. His other big screen credits include lending a hand to the story on the excellent Rango. I'm curious to see if anybody with money will take note of him and shovel over some dough for a slightly bigger cinematic affair.

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