HOW DO YOU KNOW CHRIS? Starring: Luke Cook, Tatiana Quaresma, Lynn Gilmartin. Travis McMahon, and Rachel Kim Cross. Directed by Ashley Harris. Rated MA+. Restricted (Strong coarse language). 86 min.
This home-grown drama tells the story of a young man who brings together an assortment of people who have played a significant part in his life.
Chris Black (Luke Cook) hosts a party of people at his apartment in inner-city Melbourne, but when the invitees to his party arrive, he is not there. They are all given ample access to drinks and food, and the invitees linger to discuss their lives and issues that concern them. Matters of interest for them range from politics, to personal issues that reflect their sexuality, and to issues that appear superficially trivial, when they are not.
As the ‘crazy night’ moves on, the invitees focus in their own way on matters that are starting to worry them: ‘How do we all know Chris, where is he, and why isn’t he here?’ None of the guests know much about each other, but they all know they have interacted with Chris at some time in the past, and most of them knew Chris while they were with him at high school. Some were friendly to him, while others bullied him mercilessly. The group includes a drug-addicted ex-girlfriend who Chris has treated poorly, and who now deserves an apology, which he gives.
Australian director of the film, Ashley Harris, takes time to air inner conflicts and interpersonal tensions, and has Chris arriving well after the party is under way. After Chris comes, things take a more sinister turn. It becomes obvious that no one at the party is there by accident, even a student, Emi (Tatiana Quaresma), whom Chris met earlier in the same day at the local laundromat. The secret to the movie lies in the final exchanges between Chris and Emi at the laundromat, where Chris gives his reason for inviting everyone to his party. It would be a ‘spoiler’ to reveal it.
Most of the movie is spent building up the uncertainty of knowing what Chris means to the different people invited to his party. After Chris arrives, he brings them all together as a group with a toast that he delivers before he exits. Viewers do not know who he really values as a friend.
Chris’s return to his party takes the film in a direction much darker than the pleasantries of a group of people having a good time socially at a party, interacting together. The tone of the movie in its latter half exposes tensions between those in the group and invites the viewer to explore the secrets of the invitees’ own pasts. What happens is illustrated by a number of quality Australian movies that project strength by highlighting what lies buried, but not remembered, in the past.
Movies such Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale (2019), for example – which is an Australian drama of much grander cultural significance – tells the story of a young woman who seeks resolution for the trauma she has experienced at the hands of others. In this film, resolution is personal for Chris. Kindness and sacrifice may ultimately win, but this film argues that the route to finding them is going to be grim.
Chris’s distress is psychological, rather than physical, and he is as conflicted as any of those he has invited to his party. He has treated others badly, and they have treated him likewise. The past is revealed by Chris, whose toast exposes the lack of honesty that exists among most of those he has invited. His presence, and what he says, forces the invitees to confront what they have done, who they are, and to seek understanding of who they are now, and what they have become.
The movie’s scripting is excellent, and the pace of the movie is intentionally measured which increases the film’s tension. The cinematography stays suitably claustrophobic, and the tension of slow-released truths escalates to build a mood of uncertainty that permeates the film. This is a well-made, low-budget Australian movie that is impressively acted and directed, and it explores human relationships in an unusual way.
Peter W Sheehan is an Associate of Jesuit Media
Ashley Harris Pty Ltd, Rialto Distribution
Released 3 December 2020