Wisconsin Film Festival Spotlight: “Coherence”

coherence

Tickets for the 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival went on sale last Saturday, and each day between now and the start of the festival on April 3, I’ll be zooming in on one of the more than 140 films playing at the festival. If you have suggestions about films you’d like to know more about as you’re planning your festival experience, let me know in comments.

Coherence” (Sunday, April 6,, 1 p.m., Sundance Cinemas)

If you’re into indie sci-fi in the vein of “Primer” or “Another Earth,” where the thrills up the spine come from ideas rather than visual effects, get a ticket now to see James Byrkit’s mindbender “Coherence.” (Rush tickets remain on sale for a second show at 9 p.m. Saturday at Sundance).

In the film’s creepy prologue, we see a woman (Emily Foxler) driving to meet friends at an Los Angeles dinner party, trying to talk to her boyfriend on the phone. But the signal goes dead. And then, more sinisterly, the screen on her smartphone unexpectedly shatters in her hand.

At the party, everyone is talking about the comet that’s passing overhead, visible in the night sky. They drink wine and chatter, and then the lights go out. In their house, and every house in the neighborhood. Except one house two blocks away, which has every light blazing. Two of the men at the party go to investigate.

And I should really leave it there, because half of the pleasure of “Coherence” is watching where Byrkit takes this, into ever more delightfully convoluted waters. You feel like you should have a notebook and a map in hand to keep track of everything that’s going on, and even then you’ll likely have to grab a beer and talk it out with your friends afterward

The other half of the pleasure of “Coherence” comes from the grounded, realistic performances of the eight actors, who react to increasingly unbelievable events with just the right mix of curiosity, fear and humor that you would imagine a group of slightly self-involved Angelenos would. I especially enjoyed Foxler, as a woman who ends up making a decisive choice late in the film, and Nicholas Brendon of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame who I believe might be playing himself (he references his role on “Roswell” in one funny meta-moment.)

The dialogue seems mostly improvised and authentic, which sells the increasingly wild plot twists and loop-de-loops that “Coherence” takes. If you’re into this sort of thing, it’s really a lot of fun.

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