This Micro-Budget Sci-Fi Thriller Will Melt Your Brain

Coherence Sci-fi

If you have read my work previously, you may know that I am a big champion of overlooked and underrated cinema. In fact, I pen a weekly column spotlighting cinematic diamonds in the rough. On that note, I am back at it today. I’m here championing a sci-fi effort from 2014 that has gone largely unseen by the masses and deserves to be sought out and enjoyed. I am talking about James Ward Byrkit’s mind-bending microbudget affair Coherence. The flick benefits from a brilliant storyline, a talented cast, and endless amounts of ingenuity. 

Since this overlooked sci-fi film has flown under the radar for many, I will attempt to divulge as little as possible about the narrative to avoid spoiling the surprises in store. With that disclaimer out of the way, the setup goes something like this: A group of friends come together for dinner on the eve of a comet. Almost immediately, strange things begin to happen. The inexplicable goings on become more and more perplexing as the night progresses. Seeds of mistrust are sewn and an air of paranoia penetrates the group dynamic, resulting in serious consequences for the party guests.  

Doing So Much With So Little On An Indie Sci-Fi Thriller

Coherence was shot for an estimated budget of $50,000 and reportedly filmed in less than a week. But you absolutely wouldn’t know it. Byrkit makes the most of his monetary resources by stripping back to basics and leveraging the strength of his cast and an ingenious premise. In doing so, we are enraptured in the narrative and don’t notice the lack of bells and whistles. 

The characters seamlessly carry the narrative. Each has an interesting backstory that doesn’t necessarily play directly into the storyline but serves to give each of the key players a level of depth and make them relatable. The dialogue and banter between the pals give the characters a level of authenticity. That’s a big piece of what makes the film function so effectively. There’s nothing to distract from the core performances. So, having a seasoned cast goes a long way toward ensuring the picture is immersive, in spite of budgetary constraints.

Authenticity In A Movie About Different Dimensions and Time Travel

In addition to competent performances, there’s also a noticeable level of authenticity in the camaraderie between the cast. Though this under-seen sci-fi film was shot in just a few days, one gets the impression the cast spent a lot of time getting comfortable with one another beforehand. They come across like an actual group of old friends.

Adding to that level of authenticity, several of the core cast members use variations of their real names as their character name. Case in point: Emily Baldoni plays Em. And Elizabeth Gracen plays Beth. Nicholas Brendon stars as an actor who came to prominence on a WB Network series. His character’s name is Mike, not Nick. And he was on Roswell, not Buffy. But flourishes like that bring an added level of realism to the proceedings. 

The Cast Is Everything

The cast works together to believably establish a level of paranoia that begins to spread through the group, credibly convincing the viewer that grave danger is afoot. Unlike the majority of genre pictures, the cast must sell that conceit solely with dialogue and body language. The shoestring budget didn’t afford luxuries like extensive prosthetics or VFX work. But the film doesn’t suffer as a result. If anything, the picture feels more grounded because of the lack of flashy visuals.  

Fans of The Twilight Zone are sure to find plenty to enjoy about Coherence. The film shares a lot of thematic similarities with the Rod Serling creationIn fact, the picture feels a bit like a feature-length episode of the beloved series. Similar to The Twilight Zone, which was undoubtedly a major source of inspiration, the proceedings leave plenty of unanswered questions, cloaked in layer upon layer of ambiguity. And it’s that ambiguity, in part, that makes the film so enjoyable. If we had a concise ending that tied everything together neatly and answered every question, we would have no reason to think about the film after the credits roll or pay the flick a repeat visit. As it stands, each subsequent viewing of Coherence adds to the film’s mystique and poses new questions.  

The viewer is given just enough context to piece together what we need to know. We get a bit of commentary on the comet and a brief primer on theoretical physics. But that’s about the extent of it. Byrkit takes the less is more approach and doesn’t try to explain anything he doesn’t absolutely have to.  

All things considered, Coherence is a dynamite sci-fi feature that does a lot with a little. A great cast and a smart setup more than make up for the lack of bells and whistles. If you haven’t had the occasion to check out Coherence, you can scope the film on Tubi as of the publication of this post. 

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