Mass isn’t going to be anybody’s idea of a fun trip to the cinema.
Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen no opportunity to view it on the big screen, though, to be fair, this intimate drama, written and directed by Franz Kranz, works perfectly well on a television screen. Effectively, it’s a four-hander, and I might be forgiven for assuming that it started life in the theatre, but actually it’s an original screenplay and one that draws me quickly in to its central premise.
We start proceedings in a dowdy church hall, somewhere in the heart of America, where Judy (Breeda Wool) fusses around preparing a room for an impending meeting, directing the taciturn Anthony (Keegan Albright) to help her set out the furniture just so. This one, she warns him, is going to be ‘tricky.’
Then Kendra (Michelle M Carter) arrives to further supervise things, and we learn that she has been working with one of the couples due to meet here and has finally persuaded them to attend. But these distractions are just set dressing for the main event. Soon enough, the first couple arrive and take their seats. They are Jay (Jason Isaacs) and his wife, Gail (Martha Plimpton), and it’s clear that they are reluctant to be here. Shortly thereafter come estranged couple Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd) and we sense that they too are horribly conflicted.
We soon learn why they are here – and this is in no way a spoiler.
There has been a fatal school shooting some time earlier. Both couples have lost a son in the incident, one son a victim, the other the perpetrator, who afterwards took his own life. The two couples are here to talk through their respective issues, to try to come to terms with what has happened to their children and to their own lives. What follows is a harrowing exchange, which ranges through mutual sympathy, antagonism, despair and outright anger. This is a mature and important conversation that America needs to address urgently.
Of course, this is only going to work if the acting is top notch and, frankly, it is uniformly brilliant. Indeed, I’d be hard put to select one performance over another; suffice to say, I am by turns horrified, bewildered and tearful. This is incendiary stuff and the banal topping and tailing of the piece just serves to accentuate the power of the main event.
Needless to say, Mass won’t be for everyone – it will be too brutal, too affecting for some and you could argue that, after the gloom of the pandemic, many will prefer to look towards more optimistic horizons. But it is nonetheless a powerful slice of filmmaking that achieves its ambitions with skill and determination.