There were a lot of reasons why I was optimistic going into Coherence. For one, it's a cerebral sci-fi movie, and I am officially on the record as being a fan of that genre. I didn't know much about it's premise because every article I had read about it was careful to avoid spoilers, but I knew that it was about a dinner party that goes wrong after a comet causes some weird metaphysical malfunction, and that sounded promising. Most importantly, the movie got so much love from critics that it's already being lauded as one of the best films of this decade. So... why did I hate it so much?
Let's start with the little complaints and work our way up. For starters, I couldn't get over how terrible Coherence looks. When people talk about how they prefer movies that were shot on film over movies that were shot digitally, this is the movie they are talking about. Every time the camera makes a quick movement the image bursts into blurry pixels, and since this movie starts to really overuse whip pans during the climax, that meant that I was continually annoyed at the conclusion when I should have been on the edge of my seat.
Furthermore, Coherence basically takes place in one suburban home with a small cast, which naturally creates a very limited visual palette, so I understand the filmmaker's insistence on tight close ups - but that doesn't mean that I have to like it. Coherence might be compelling on a cerebral level, but it is definitely not a visually stimulating film, because it repeats the same ill cropped shots over and over.
I also had a problem with it's cast of characters, which felt very cliche to me. Everyone seemed to be representing an archetype: you have the struggling actor, the ex-boyfriend, the cuckold who doesn't know what his wife has been up to... It's a grouping that is too perfectly balanced between various personality types to feel plausible to me, which would have been fine if the characters were engaged in a plot that was bigger than themselves. But no, the whole film more or less begins and ends with a dinner party, which means that you have to engage with these characters throughout the whole film or else you're left out in the cold. I know that some critics liked the dynamic between these artificial stand ins, but I was left out in the cold.
Now, I saved my biggest complaint for last because it potentially veers into spoiler territory. (Consider yourself warned.) When that comet passes over the dinner party, it allows the characters to explore parallel worlds where they can run into alternate versions of themselves who have made slightly different life choices. It's an idea that has potential, but the film bungles it's execution by having the characters react to the situation with the wrong kind of paranoia. If they were freaked out because the universe was broken I would get that - the idea that the basic laws of existence are in flux is legitimately terrifying. But no, what they're actually worried about is that the alternate versions of themselves are going to come and mess with them.
Why? Coherence has gotten compared a lot to the Twilight Zone episode the Monsters Are Due on Maple Street where good neighbors suddenly become suspicious of each other, but that set up makes some sense, because while you might be friendly with your neighbor there's going to be a lot you don't know about them. As game theory will tell you an information gap demands that you second guess someone's intentions: when you're dealing with strangers (or at least neutral parties with unknown intentions) then it makes sense to assume the worst about their true objectives. But why would you suddenly suspect that your best friend was going to come over to your house and do something malicious and weird to you? I can't remember a single dinner party I've been to where I was like "there is a 75% chance that one of these people would secretly be a monster" - but that's pretty quickly where these people's heads go when their after dinner celebration goes wonky.
I understand that from a movie where a group of friends waits calmly to meet duplicates of themselves who are probably going to be pretty chill is a much duller movie than the one we got. Still, I'd rather have the duller but more sensible movie, because it would make for a smarter version of this "cerebral" story. The only reason for this group of friends to immediately begin to think about blackmailing their dopplegangers and breaking into their cars is to artificially inflate the movie's stakes. It doesn't wash with me, and it wastes the real potential of this movie, because I think most of us would wonder what it would be like to actually meet ourselves - a prospect that this film doesn't even raise. That's leaving a million dollar premise on the table to take a twenty dollar one.
A Coherence proponent would argue that I was taking this movie too literally, that it's meant to function as a thought experiment and not as a straight ahead story. That's fair - but I would also counter that a parable still needs to have internal logic to make sense, and I didn't buy the logic of this movie. I especially didn't buy it once it descended into hysteria at the end - the film culminates in an act of violence that I thought was truly inexplicable. I understand the ending's metaphorical purpose, but it was the final nail in the coffin for me.
I was honestly a bit surprised at how much I disliked this film. Then again I didn't hate this film so much that I can't imagine an alternate universe where I was able to engage with it in an abstract way and ended up loving it. Of course, I hate that alternate version of me and I want to break his car's windshield, but still - I do think it's possible that there's a world where I'm with the critics on this one. But in this world? Not so much.
Winner: The Cat