Coherence is equal parts psychological scarefest and character study

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      Starring Emily Foxler. Rated PG.

      Not coherent in the usual sense, this no-budget sci-fi dramedy is less concerned with being easy to follow than with following various notions about how the universe operates.

      If there’s a central point of view, it’s that of fair-haired, anxious Em, played by Sweden’s Emily Foxler (born Fuxler, with an understandable name change). She’s attending a dinner party, in an unnamed suburb, with boyfriend Kevin (Homeland’s Maury Sterling), and is a tad preoccupied. Her cellphone cracks just before she learns that Kevin’s ex-girlfriend (Lauren Maher) will also show up. And she was already fretting about the comet that’s supposed to pass overhead that night.

      Sensing trouble, the New Age–ish host (Elizabeth Gracen, Miss America of 1982) offers her guests a special tincture made of “chamomile, passion flower, and a whisper of ketamine”. That formulation fits the movie, which could also be described as Friends meets The Blair Witch Project, created for people who’ve seen every episode of Cosmos.

      Some scientific musing comes courtesy of the host’s husband (Hugo Armstrong), whose brother “hangs out with theoretical physicists”. After the neighbourhood lights go out, and strange things start happening, he posits that the comet might have triggered a multiplicity of slightly different realities cohering at the same time. Indeed, when a couple of guys head down the street to the only house still lit, they peer in a window to see “themselves”, triggering too-human waves of paranoia and conjecture.

      One of the pleasures of Coherence, and there are quite a few, is that the film—a feature debut for writer-director James Ward Byrkit, who has mostly worked on animated films and games—keeps switching modes between psychological scarefest and ordinary character study. In other words, between worries about what their alter egos are going to do next, they remember to serve dessert.