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Coherence: Controlled Chaos At the Dinner Party

September 3, 2014

Coherence movie poster

Coherence tells the story of a dinner party gone awry. It is a welcome break from the mega summer science fiction that is loaded with CGI and light on story. It may be rich in Schrödinger’s cat and metaphysics references but it also realizes the importance of simplicity. The perfect word to describe the film came from director James Ward Byrkit when he called it “scrappy.”

The low-budget, mostly improvised science fiction experiment isn’t meant to take over Primer’s high concept/low-budget mantel. It is like an episode of The Twilight Zone meets every indie dinner party film you’ve ever seen. I love how Byrkit explained his characters like this “At a party of smug Northern California white people, what would be the most normal types of people to run into?”

Coherence Nicholas Brendan


The reason I watched Coherence was because of a Grantland article called Coherence: the best sci-fi movie of 2014 that you haven’t seen. In the article Jason Concepcion writes:

Coherence doesn’t have the budget to show you the giant lizard (Godzilla), so it shows you eight people you might recognize from your own life going, “What the f*ck is happening?” The disbelief and confusion of the characters ends up driving the movie. Imagine if the characters in Cloverfield never left the party and you’re on the right track.

Coherence proves that independent film making is still alive. Byrkit came up with the idea after working as a storyboard artist on the Pirates films and co-writing Rango. He grew frustrated with mega-budget meandering and spent a year breaking the 12-page outline for Coherence.  It has been carefully crafted yet the interactions were allowed to breathe. The actors weren’t certain of what they were getting into and that allowed for the spontaneity of the interactions.  In an incredibly open and self-effacing interview with yahoo director James Ward Byrkit discussed the process:

We shot over five nights, so each day, the individual actors would get a page of notes for what they had to do that night. And it might have a bit of a backstory that they would tell, or a bit of motivation — like, “If this happens, you’re gonna want to do this.” Or, “Somehow get outside tonight.” They didn’t know what everybody else was told to do, so it was all a surprise to them. They had no idea about the  bumps and power outages and surprises that were coming.

Coherence has layers yet doesn’t feel like it has layers. The self-importance isn’t there and that is why I like it. I appreciate films that can stay insular and are worth another viewing. My initial reaction was annoyance at some of the character choices but now I understand why they would go out into the dark or walk towards the light.


Coherence is not a deep film in which over-analyzing is necessary. Enjoy the “scrappiness” and in Byrkit’s words know “it’s actually super simple if you just follow the main character from shot one to the final shot of the movie.” Coherence is meant to reward the viewer and not punish them. It is carefully crafted, organic and sticks to the Coherence definition by being “logical and consistent.”

Watch Coherence. Appreciate Coherence. Watch Coherence again. Never throw a dinner party while a comet is close to earth.

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