Reviews

Shatter Belt (Season 1) ‘SXSW’ Review: Mysterious Apple, Thematic Restaurant & a Friend’s Joke Redefining the Sci-fi genre in Coherence Director’s Brilliant, New Anthology series.

Shatter Belt (Season 1) ‘SXSW’ Review: To talk about “Shatter Belt”, the new series made by director James Ward Byrkit, a look back at his 2013 Science-Fiction sensation “Coherence” becomes necessary. Normally while reviewing or analysing a particular work of a director, I try to refrain from bringing up other work by the same person. Of course, directors have their own signature style which is particularly visible in so many cases; but I believe in the notion that every work starts from the scratch and should be judged only on its own merit.

But for director James Ward Byrkit, Coherence is much more than a debut feature. The 2013 micro-budget science-fiction thriller proved that all you need is a bunch of people, an interesting location and maybe some props to make something so engaging, that people will talk about it even after a decade. Taking a leaf out of director Shane Carruth’s 2004 Indie Science-fiction “Primer” which was made on an even lesser budget, “Coherence” turned a regular dinner-party into a surrealism induced tale of alternative realities and mistaken identities. It was simultaneously confusing and entertaining where the audience would discover a new thing upon every re-watch.

With that kind of a groundbreaking work, what Byrkit would do next became an obvious matter of curiosity, unsurprisingly. And the director has taken quite a bit of time to lock his new project, titled “Shatter Belt”. The four episodes long, Kickstarter funded science-fiction anthology series, premiering at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival seems to be the ideal successor of Coherence, from what I got to see so far, thanks to the screeners that I received beforehand, for reviewing purposes.

While the recipe does seem to draw inspiration from both ‘Black Mirror” and “The Twilight Zone”, the final dish is unmistakably a creation of Byrkit, the man who once created the lip-smacking snack called Coherence. In all the three episodes that I got to watch, there is a lot of conversation between people while all the magic, mysteries and weirdness casually kicking in. Like in the second episode titled “Immotus”, which drops us right in the middle of a regular night inside the office of a BuzzFeed-esque start-up company; an apparently “untouchable” apple becomes the origin of all the chaos that follows. Byrkit’s writing not only makes the characters argue amongst themselves over an apple, even I found myself wondering about it halfway into the episode.

Shatter Belt

Moving on to episode 4, titled “Pearls”, which I found a little off-putting initially but eventually ended up completely floored by it, is essentially an “eat the rich” story. And I believe the reason for my initial apprehension has to be the fatigue the genre has caused me, thanks to as many as four movies in 2022 as well as HBO’s staple “eat the rich” show “The White Lotus”. The episode puts the spotlight on a young working couple trying to win the approval of their employer, another older couple, in an “experience” restaurant setting much like “The Menu”. But Byrkit lets the couple have their conversation at the centre stage, while running the weirdness show in the background. At the end of it, of course, everything merges and we get an explosion as well as a conclusion which makes all the sense in the world. Abigail Spencer’s performance as the “better” half of the older couple in this episode is particularly impressive.

However, If I have to pick an episode as a favourite, then that would most definitely be the third episode, which is called “The Specimen”. Patton Oswalt stars as a down-on-luck car-repairing shop employee trying to make a desperate attempt to turn around his life, by putting his money on a particular joke from the most popular sitcom ever, “Friends”. At the same time, we get to see an interconnected story where two museum employees are trying to figure out the meaning of a piece of writing, found in an ancient specimen during their research. The seemingly normal episode tricks you into believing that you have it all figured out until revealing that it is not at all what you expected, but much more than that, at the very end. The surprisingly emotional episode is possibly the most original piece of thing I have seen in recent times, where at the end of it I found myself laughing, crying and hyperventilating in excitement.

At times like this, when we have the access to explore tons of contents and also the power to jump into one from another if something fails to impress us from the get-go; Shatter Belt has successfully managed to hold me, enthrall me and even ponder over life for a little. I can’t wait to see the one remaining episode and re-watch the ones I have already been fortunate to watch, when the show releases.

James Ward Byrkit’s Shatter Belt screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival

Shatter Belt (Season 1) TV Show Links – IMDb
Shatter Belt (Season 1) TV Show Cast – Richard Follin, Bobby Foley, Joan Almedilla

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