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Film / Coherence

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"Here's to the life that we do lead."

Coherence is a 2013 low-budget Science Fiction thriller directed by James Ward Byrkit.

On the night a comet is passing near Earth, a dinner party takes an odd turn. When the power goes out, eight friends discover that the only house on the street left with power also holds many secrets.

Due to the Mind Screw nature of the film, quite a few spoilers have been left unmarked.

This film provides examples of:

  • Afraid of Blood: Laurie. She freaks out when blood from Beth's nosebleed drips onto her arm.
  • The Alcoholic: Mike. His wife mentions that his drinking problem destroyed his career.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Mike starts making poorer choices as the night progresses.
    • His paranoia lets him get into useless fights with his other selves.
    • Also he comes up with a plan to blackmail himself with a note about the one-night-stand he and Beth had 12 years ago. However, he slips the note under the door for the wrong person to find.
    • His comment to Hugh about having slept with Beth in every single reality, while absolutely correct, sure doesn't help to de-escalate the situation.
  • All Just a Dream: Played with. When Em wakes up the next morning, she is kind of surprised that everybody reacted as if nothing has happened. Was she just dreaming? No. Turns out that Em #2 escaped from the bathroom unnoticed. Em's plan failed.
  • Alternate Self: Several, due to the time anomaly. Some of them even meet each other.
  • Alternate Universe: As the comet pass, the parallel universes are linked by a "dark zone". Crossing that zone to "the other house" means that character leaves their own universe/reality. The link is gone after the comet breaks apart.
  • Always Someone Better: A recurring problem for all the characters and part of why the comet hits them so hard. Em especially seems to struggle with it, towards Kevin's ex Laurie and the dancer who "stole her life".
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's not clear why Laurie has seen Roswell but has no memory of Mike in the cast, while at the same time Mike is falsely convinced that Laurie was once a yoga instructor. This seems to line up with the comet's effect of making people have "false memories" of past events, but the events they misremember are well outside of the comet's one-night-only effect. Did previous comets muddle their memories, or is this just a mundane and coincidental foreshadowing of the supernatural events to come?
  • As You Know: Hugh greets Beth with a kiss and a "Hello, my wife!"
  • Bait-and-Switch: Em loses her ring while clubbing her alternate self and steals her alternate's version. We then cut to a shot of the ring lying unnoticed on the ground, setting up the opportunity for someone to discover it and question how there could now be two rings. Instead, the second Em is still alive and calls Kevin.
  • Berserk Button: Hugh snaps and gives Mike a good beating after the latter drops the line about having slept with his wife in a million different timelines.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Em is trapped in an alternate universe forever. The comet has passed. Luckily she's replaced her original self in that timeline, by killing herself. Or so she thinks — then Em #2 calls Kevin, and he's left staring in confusion at Em #1. It's not known what happens from there, but the odds are not good for Em #1.
  • Bound and Gagged: In one of the alternate realities, Em sees two Mikes gagged and tied down to a chair, presumably after having a fight with another.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Beth is a wealthy woman with New Age beliefs and an appetite for recreational drug use.
  • Bread Milk Eggs Squick: Beth mentions that her relaxation concoction contains a bunch of ingredients: echinacea, valerian root, ketamine.... When she hits the last one, the other characters react exactly as you'd expect.
  • Casting Gag: Nicholas Brendon plays an actor who claims to have been in all four seasons of Roswell, and his wife indicates in one scene that his career was derailed due to alcohol addiction. Of course, Nicholas Brendon was in all but one episode of the seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and admitted in 2010 that he had a recurring problem with alcohol.
  • Cellphones Are Useless: The characters are isolated in the house with no phone reception or internet. Also invoked with the random breaking of Em's cell phone and then later Hugh's, which convinces everybody that they've left their houses without knowing it since no-one but Hugh remembers his phone breaking early in the evening.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Hugh's band-aid. First, it's made of cloth but later changes to plastic.
    • Beth's ketamine, which Em later uses to sedate her Alternate Self.
    • The numbered photos of the group. Their significance is not revealed until very late in the movie.
    • Em's broken phone. Hugh's phone is apparently broken in the same way in one of the other universes, but nobody can remember it. That's how the other characters realize that they're not in the right dimension.
  • Closed Circle: Contact to the outside world via phone or internet is impossible. And trying to leave the place, will just cause characters to reemerge at the same house in an alternate reality.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The colored glow sticks help to identify visitors. Or do they?
  • Distress Ball: Also Conflict Ball and Idiot Ball. The Anthropic Principle in full swing. For there to be a plot, characters are required not to stay calm and sit out the night in the house but rather venture out to solve the problem. Case in point is Hugh who desperately tries to contact his brother and Properly Paranoid Mike. Even more than that, for the film to really work the characters should act not just of somewhat understandable curiosity, but of unprovoked hostility towards and fear of, basically, themselves. The fact that the movie ends with one of the characters discovering that at least one party who did end up staying indoors all night consequently had a pleasant and stress-free time could be seen as a nod to this.
  • Door Handle Scare: Em supposedly kills her other self and placed her in the shower. The next morning, she walks by the bathroom when suddenly the door knob is tried a few times from the inside. Oh, Crap!. Then the door opens and another visitor of the house is exiting the bathroom.
  • Downer Ending: Every single continuity is screwed, involves people attempting to kill each other and almost everyone's lives are altered for the worst. The one pleasant dimension that Em #1 escapes to is unintentionally sabotaged after her plan to kill Em #2 fails, trapping her in that continuity forever.
  • The Empath: Beth believes herself to be this.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The book Hugh's brother left, which provides Info Dumps about quantum decoherence.
  • Everybody Lives: No matter how hard Em tries to sabotage, this trope in the third act.
  • Evil Counterpart: Mike and Em discuss the possibility of such thing. In the end, Mike wonders whether they are in fact the evil counterparts. Ultimately, Em does become one.
  • Exposition Party: The audience gets to know the characters through their talk around the dinner table.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The plot spans about 12 hours.
  • Fainting: Near the end, Em #1 faints shortly after believing that she's murdered her alternate self and sleeps through the rest of the night.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Em talks about a particular comet event in Finland where people would end up in the wrong home and seemingly forget things, also another story about a woman claiming the man in her house is not her husband, because she killed him the day before. Later in the movies, characters get lost between realities and have slightly different memories about past events, and Em herself deliberately tries to take residence in another reality where the other Em is still alive.
    • Laurie notes how that other dancer has stolen Em's life by ending up with Em's dancing show. Em later tries to steal the life of Em #2.
    • The "door to nowhere" is introduced early on, but the name doesn't strike as relevant until much later, when Em #1 comes through that same door in Em #2's house, interrupting the pleasant dinner party.
    • Em is also criticized by Kevin and Laurie for struggling to make decisions and decide what she wants from her life. She ultimately, but impulsively, decides to walk through the timelines until finding a happy one to stay in.
    • After venturing outside for the first time, the partygoers return inside and note that a glass has been broken that no one remembers breaking. They've returned to a different version than their original house.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: The initial POV group is identified by their blue glowsticks, while the "other" group is identified by their red glowsticks, helping to portray the other group as a threat. The distinction ultimately becomes moot.
  • Hairpin Lockpick: Mike manages to open the mysterious box with a pin from his pocket. Lampshaded by his line: "Holy shit, it worked."
  • Haunted House Historian: Em is an expert on mysterious comets.
  • A House Divided: The Movie.
  • Hysterical Woman: Laurie freaks out when blood from Beth's nosebleed drips onto her arm.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: What everybody thinks when Beth comes under suspicion of having drugged the food the group ate with ketamine.
  • Ignorance Is Bliss: The only happy dimension we see is the one where the party never realized that there were any other dimensions running amok. They simply enjoyed the party for the whole night.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Mentioned by several characters. Mike in particular.
  • Improv: The film's dialogue is largely improvised.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Several people gush about how attractive Laurie is before she arrives, which exacerbates how insecure Emily is about Laurie being there.
  • Killing Your Alternate Self: Em tries to invoke this when attempting a quiet Kill and Replace of her Alternate Timeline counterpart, but botches the job. It's Left Hanging which of them will actually survive.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Mike says that he had a recurring role in Roswell. Laurie says that she loves that show, but cannot remember Mike in it. In reality, the actor who plays Mike, Nicholas Brendon, is the most famous member of the cast, but he was never in Roswell. Instead, he he was in a different WB show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: The trope that drives the plot. A frustrated Em even snaps, "So we're splitting up again?!?"
  • Minimalist Cast: Of eight characters.
  • The Multiverse: The film explores the idea of Alternate Universes crossing paths.
  • Never Split the Party:
    • The characters note this trope in action and resolutely resolve to stay together. Unfortunately, it's dark, and there are hundreds of potential versions of themselves wandering around through the same small area, so it's natural that some unintended splits occur.
    • Subverted twice when the group decides to stay together to check on their cars. Em #1 leaves the group to check out her own car, only to bump into Kevin #2. Later Em #2 does the same mistake and gets knocked out by Em #1.
    • And in the end it turns out that unless you don't leave the house, staying together with someone only means that you will travel through realities together, not that you ever can or will return to the original reality.
  • Not Quite Dead: Em #2. First she escapes from the trunk of the car and comes crawling back into the house. Then after taking a good Tap on the Head she goes out, presumably dead, but is gone from the bathroom the next morning.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: The fight between Em #1 and Em #2 in the bathroom is accompanied by a Jitter Cam and screen flicker.
  • Oh, Crap!: Em and Kevin both have this moment outside by the car, when they realize they are not from the same continuum.
  • Other Me Annoys Me: Mike is shown to be extremely hostile towards his alternate versions, up to the point where he picks a fight with one.
  • Portal Door: The mysterious dark zone induced by the comet, where characters pass between realities.
  • Properly Paranoid: Mike is suspicious of his alternate counterparts trying to kill him because that's exactly what he wants to do. And eventually one does attack. Might very well be a case of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: In the end, having realized she may never find her home reality again, Em decides to search for a more pleasant reality, kill her counterpart there, and take over her life. And it sorta works... until it doesn't.
  • Punk in the Trunk: Em locks her sedated Alternate Self into the trunk of her car.
  • Removed from the Picture: When Laurie produces a photograph of Kevin from her wallet, Em loses her temper and cuts the photograph of herself and Kevin into two.
  • Shared Mass Hallucination: Played with. At one point Em raises the suspicion that Beth might have drugged the food with ketamine, which would have explained the weird occurrences. On top of her denial, the group admits that even if she had, they wouldn't all have the same hallucination.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Similar Squad: The eerie moment when the group of four carrying blue lights bump into their counterparts with red lights.
  • Space Is Magic: The Miller's comet is mysteriously causing Alternate Timelines to intersect at the dark zone.
  • Spot the Imposter: The group uses colored glow sticks to identify visitors. Much later, the mismatching dice numbers and icons from the box make it clear that this approach failed.
  • Token Minority: Amir.
  • Trapped in Another World: Discussed by Em and Mike. Once characters pass the dark area, they are randomly transported into an Alternate Timeline, with little hope of being able to find their home dimension.
  • The Tunguska Event: Invoked by Em early on, when she shares what she read about weird comet events. Parts of her story are important later.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Hugh's brother gave him very vague warnings about the comet, telling Hugh to contact him if anything seemed strange. Unfortunately, this led him to leave the house, setting off many of the events of the film. He also told Hugh to stay in the house. If he'd only given the second piece of advice, things might have turned out better for far more timelines.
  • Wham Line: Downplayed: Em hearing the otherwise trivial small-talk between Beth and Lee about the vase from "Galaxy, that thrift store" for the second time could have served as one, but it's still a long way from there to the final reveal.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Initially, seeing the other group with red glowsticks. It's what convinces the whole group that they are in some sort of multiverse situation with multiple versions of themselves.
    • The writing in the notepad. Done with a different marker.
  • Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Mike shouts about how he's going to kill the people in the other house, but he isn't the one who tries to Kill and Replace their counterpart from a happier reality.
  • Wrong Assumption: Mike jokes that he's the resident expert on paranormal phenomena due to appearing on Roswell, but he turns out to be the biggest liability of the group.