The majority of HOW DO YOU KNOW CHRIS? is set in or outside a dinner party at the titular character’s Melbourne apartment. It quickly becomes apparent that while there aren’t many guests, Chris (Luke Cook) has invited people from a range of settings and times in his life: there are old school mates (or rivals), colleagues, and exes, to name a few. What’s less obvious is exactly why he’s gathered them; only a handful have ever met before, and Emi (Tatiana Quaresma), the film’s co-lead, only met her host that morning.
If this claustrophobic setting and sense of mystery surrounding the lead make you think of a classic thriller, prepare to have your expectations subverted by the film’s first half. By contrast, Zachary Perez’s script makes the bold but brilliant decision to linger on the supporting characters’ introductions to each other, revelling in the awkwardness of first impressions. There are many memorable asides to be found here, such as Chris’ boss Shane (Stephen Carracher) having to explain to everyone that he was told to dress for a costume party.
However, Perez and director Ashley Harris are equal contributors to the early success of HOW DO YOU KNOW CHRIS?. Harris seems to know exactly how to punctuate each of Perez’s surreal set-ups; for instance, Dot (Lynn Gilmartin) proving she can do a handstand to someone she just met is a little funny, holding the shot longer than expected is an effective way to build on this, but continuing even further until her dress falls to reveal her underwear? That’s the beat which truly emphasises how uncomfortable these characters are in this moment. Similarly, the table tennis match between Justin (Jacob Machin) and Blucker (Dan Haberfield) is a standout sequence for its fast pace and shots from a range of angles. Harris seemingly heightens the stakes out of nowhere, once again making a point of the strange things people say and do when they’re unsure of themselves.
Hopefully, these examples don’t give the impression that HOW DO YOU KNOW CHRIS? is a comedy. Rather, Perez and Harris use them to subtly maintain tension, reminding the viewer of the uncertainty these characters feel due to their enigmatic host’s absence. They might be acting strangely, but an awkward silence would be much worse. Unfortunately, the payoff to this in the film’s second half isn’t worth the wait. Frankly, no one except Jay Gatsby himself could be as interesting as Chris has been described.
HOW DO YOU KNOW CHRIS? Opens in select Australian cinemas from 03/12/20.