Critics Consensus

A case study in less-is-more filmmaking, Coherence serves as a compelling low-budget calling card for debuting writer-director James Ward Byrkit.



Total Count: 86


Audience Score

User Ratings: 7,540
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Movie Info

On the night of an astronomical anomaly, eight friends at a dinner party experience a troubling chain of reality bending events. Part cerebral sci-fi and part relationship drama, COHERENCE is a tightly focused, intimately shot film whose tension intensely ratchets up as its numerous complex mysteries unfold. (c) Oscilloscope

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Critic Reviews for Coherence

All Critics (86) | Top Critics (22)

  • An entertaining, if talky, slice of indie sci-fi that involves one freaky comet and eight good-looking Californians.

    Feb 13, 2015 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • Clever and compelling, though never quite breaking through the sense of artifice.

    Feb 13, 2015 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • It's best not to know too much more going in, but suffice it to say Byrkit's parable about choices and how they make us who we are has an eerie potency.

    Feb 12, 2015 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • The larger questions Coherence asks us to consider about parallel worlds are interesting, if not exactly original, while absurdist touches help elevate it from more traditional thrillers.

    Sep 18, 2014 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
  • At once a suspenseful mind game and a wily mash-up of surreal quantum physics theories, this low-cost thriller proves that something approaching brilliance is not just a function of budget.

    Jul 11, 2014 | Rating: 4/5
  • James Ward Byrkit completes his journey from storyboard writer-director with this overextended but mostly enjoyable trip into the Twilight Zone.

    Jul 10, 2014 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Coherence

  • Jul 26, 2018
    I wonder if I can start out this review by ripping off a previous review I did for a little gem of a movie called The Incident, by pointing out what is the exact image that comes to mind when you hear the term 'science fiction'. For most people, this term brings to mind, almost immediately, films like Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Battlestar Galactica. You know, thing set in space or different planets, with a wide variety of creatures and species completely unlike our own. And that's not a wrong image to have of sci-fi, of course, since that is what the genre has been pushed as throughout the years. Naturally, space operas are, potentially, bound to be more financially successful than, say, an independent movie with little to no special effects, whose sci-fi comes from its exploration of scientific themes like time travel, quantum physics, multiple dimensions and/or realities, multiverses, etc, etc, etc. You can explore all of these themes without, really, relying much on the usage of special effects. All you need is strong dialogue and a strong cast able to carry the load of those really complex themes and have them not overwhelm you with a bunch of information that you're meant to process in a very little amount of time. As much as I appreciate the big, special-effects driven space operas, I think a bigger part of me appreciates the smaller films that don't use the smoke and mirrors. That, instead, focus on crafting interesting characters first, to help carry the load of their narrative, whatever form that narrative may take and whatever themes they choose to explore. This is where films like The Incident (which I mentioned), Cruel and Unusual, Advantageous and even Bokeh come to mind. These are small, independent films that, in spite of their lack of a major budget, succeeded in creating a believable world that explored interesting scientific themes through the use of dialogue and character development. This movie, to me, also fits that bill perfectly. I don't know how much money the four movies I mentioned cost, but this is one is really impressive considering that it was shot in about five days on a budget of $50,000. What's even more impressive is the fact that the movie, for the most part was improvised. As I understand it, the actors were given basic outlines for their characters, motivations and major plot points. Going even further into that, for each day of filming, the actors would get notes for their specific characters, from backstory or more about their motivations. None of the actors were aware what the other received so, because of this, a lot of the reactions you see in the movie are real reactions. And, I don't know, there's just something so appealing about that to me. Like, as a viewer, I am able to completely invest myself in these characters if I know that, at the very least, the actors believe it and they're into what they're doing. Believability is key in movies like this. I can imagine if this movie had been as tightly scripted, plotted and rehearsed as, say, a Tarantino film, the reactions would not have come across as authentic as they did. And this movie would have definitely suffered for it. That's not to say that Tarantino has an inferior style, it's just that with his movies being the way they are, massive in scale and length, they need to be scripted that way. I'm just using him as a point of comparison. I think the thing most people will notice, right out of the gate, on top of the obvious multiple realities of the same dinner party and the same people converging and existing at the same time as this comet passes close to earth, is just how good the acting is. Top to bottom, the acting is absolutely top-notch and, say what you will about this movie, but no one can take that away from them. If you disagree, then there's just something wrong with you, my dude. This is, definitely, very much inspired by The Twilight Zone and it just gives you that weird, twisty vibe that the show so expertly captured. I don't think I could do the movie's themes justice, but let's see what I can do. So, basically, this comet is passing really close to earth and as it does strange things start happening. I'm not even really gonna go into that much detail, but eventually the group find out that, somehow, someway, the comet has caused them and other, alternate versions of them from a different reality, to coexist at the same time. Basically, almost every version of them is having this dinner party and a fair share of them are aware that there are other versions of themselves in this world. The movie has a lot of interesting ideas that it explores, but one of the ones I like the most is this idea of, basically, attacking and, maybe, murdering an alternate version of yourself because you don't know if they're about to do the same exact thing to you. That type of paranoia, particularly when, in this case, it's regarding another version of you is really interesting. Like what would drive someone to even think of that? Though, to be fair, I think Mike is the only one that has the idea of killing the other version of themselves. It's just still interesting to me to explore that dynamic of wanting to kill another version of yourself that you don't actually know. Yet, in fact, you do know, because they're pretty much the same person as you, it's just that the exist in another reality. It's nuts, but I just like that. And, of course, the movie covers much more than this, but that's one of the things that jumped out at me from this movie. This paranoia bleeds into paranoia of the other people around you, who may not be the ones that you originally went to dinner with. Basically, there's this dark zone and, Em theorizes, when you go through this zone, it's like a roulette wheel, when you come back out of it and you go back to the house, you may not even come back to the same reality as the one you're originally from. So, again, that creates a lot of mistrust and tension between the group. Tension that, in my opinion, shouldn't be there, given that, in spite of everything, these are just different versions of the same person. But, at the same time, given the situation of everything that is going on, you can't blame them for reacting the way they have. To discover that there are, seemingly, endless versions of yourself, all existing in the same place at the same time, that's a lot of stuff to take in. These arguments and tense moments were, really, just bound to happen. I think that's about all of the narrative elements that I'm going into, I just think that most of it is better if you go in blind. Though, again, I'm certain I spoiled some of those someone who might have bumped into this review (ha!). This is not an infallible movie, no flick is, of course. I think there are some moments that some people feel lack, ummm, coherence. And they're not wrong, there's just moments in the film, where all the actors are yelling at once and stuff happens so quickly that, honestly, you're not entirely sure what just happened and what you're supposed to glean from that particular scene. I suppose this could be by design, in that you're as confused and out of it as the characters themselves, but I felt it could have been handled better. That's just me, though. And, quite frankly, it's an insanely minor complaint, because I really enjoyed this movie a lot. Its improvisational and naturalistic acting is to be commended, it's an incredibly intelligent movie that treats its audience like adults, it doesn't hold your hand in the slightest. I think we need more movies like this, honestly. Movies that try to push the sci-fi genre towards places it doesn't normally go. This isn't gonna be everyone's cup of tea, of course, like if you're more of a casual person, who enjoys the space operas, this movie is gonna be like jumping headfirst into an empty pool. But it is a very rewarding (and highly enjoyable) experience and I'm glad to have watched this.
    Jesse O Super Reviewer
  • Jan 17, 2017
    Much has been said about Karyn Kusuma's dark mystery The Invitation in 2015. It became the dinner party thriller that people were talking about yet James Ward Byrkit's Coherence (which was first released two years earlier) went largely unnoticed. It did gather some positive word-of-mouth around the festival circuit but this film was more dynamic and much more deserving of a wider audience. Plot: A group of friends meet for an evening of chow and chat on the night that a passing comet flies close to the earth's atmosphere. It's an event that hasn't happened for decades but also has the possibilities of some strange events occurring. The friends soon discover that they might be living in an alternate reality as fear and paranoia creep into their increasingly fraught and tension filled dinner party. Shot on an impressive shoestring budget of $50,000 in one location and with an entirely unknown cast that improvised most of their lines. With this in mind, Coherence has a very strong chance of being an absolute disaster and a word of warning to all budding filmmakers in what not to do. However, it's quite the opposite. Byrkit shows what the possibilities are when the writing is strong and you have a confidence in your approach. He has a fine and steady hand with his direction and delivers a taught, intelligent and hugely involving mystery in his feature debut. Coherence really has no right in being as good as it is but it absolutely works. It's strengths lie in treating the audience with respect and you're left in a position where you have to return the favour. It earns it as it demands your attention to keep up with the twisted and, sometimes confusing, plot developments. That said, Byrkit doesn't want to leave any of his audience behind, so he does take the time to explain his scientific and philosophical theories but he never loses sight of the film's brisk pace and he doesn't forget that the film is essentially a complex puzzle. And a very good one at that. There are some minor plot discrepancies here and there but these do not overshadow the sheer brilliance and execution of its genuis science fiction concept. A remarkably assured debut from a promising new directorial talent. Mark Walker
    Mark W Super Reviewer
  • Sep 28, 2015
    Coherence is a chaotic and highly spontaneous dinner party mystery. The acting is artificial, which may work for you (or not) as part of the unnerving vibe. The characters' actions are puzzling and the plot is erratic. Coherence is definitely a film that will keep you guessing. Recommended to lovers of improv and indie films such as Primer and the Blair Witch Project.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 24, 2015
    Exceedingly well done and interesting story about parallel universes. How it can affect a group of people and how the outcome can change the course of history for those involved. Well written, well acted, a surprise hit.
    Ian W Super Reviewer

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