Nothing To Fear But Fear Of Ourselves: Coherence

06/18/2014 4:00 AM |

Directed by James Ward Byrkit
Opens June 20 at Village East

Agatha Christie meets theoretical physics in this strange and gripping mystery in which universes are colliding—or, more aptly, multiverses are overlapping. The trouble begins innocently enough when Emily Foxler’s iPhone screen spontaneously shatters on her way to a dinner party, attended by her Angeleno-type friends: actors, dancers, empaths, a little less recognizable and thus a little less sympathetic than the best genre-film protagonists. (It’s hosted by the lovable Nicholas Brendon, playing a fictionalized version of himself as the former star of, uh, Roswell.) The same fate will befall another cell phone, as well as a wine glass; no one has service, the web is down, and then the electricity goes out. Blame it on the unknowable space power of celestial objects: it’s all the fault of a passing comet, which, one character explains, have historically been known to cause not just mechanical but psychological disturbances when they pass too close to Earth.

It gets worse than a little cracked glass and malfunctional electronics, though. In last year’s wonderful +1, an asteroid magically caused doubles disjointed in time to crash an epic teenage house party, with characters running into versions of themselves from 20 minutes ago. This movie makes a nice companion piece to that philosophy textbook thought experiment, except it approaches something closer to +5,000,000, as every choice the characters make, even the tiniest ones, opens up an alternate reality, into which they then pass unwittingly or not through a patch of darkness outside. It’s like Schroedinger’s Cat if the possible realities didn’t collapse into one actuality when you opened the box, instead continuing to exist simultaneously when that should be impossible—and then multiplying! Or, as one character explains (to simplify it for everyone), it’s sort of like that Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors.

The action is set entirely in and around a single house, its confinement approaching theatricality; it’s low-budget, a sci-fi not of spectacle but of complex plotting, twisty and surprising in the tradition of 2004’s time-travel twister Primer. “We can’t trust ourselves,” one character says, as the ones who aren’t slipping into other realities without noticing are spying on those that are. It’s doppelganger against doppelganger, the number of universes approaching the infinite as their inhabitants become increasingly paranoid. This is the film’s most damning idea: if we’re afraid of our “alternate” selves, isn’t it just because we know ourselves—and the awful things we’re capable of?