Movie Review – Mass

Mass (2021)
Written & Directed by Fran Kranz

In complete honesty, no one should be surprised with how America has diminished COVID deaths. All we had to do was look at how this country reacted to the continuing brutal murder of its most vulnerable citizens. There are numerous mass shootings and school shootings every year, with no changes ever made on a legislative level to stop it. Sandy Hook Elementary was the site of the most chilling shooting, small primary school-age children, and even then, not one leader took material action to prevent another one. Instead, the parents of these victims were struck across the face with conspiratorial accusations that they were false flag actors from the Right, and from the liberals, they received empty wishes of thoughts & prayers. If you still have hope that this epidemic of mass murder will ever end, you have a much more optimistic view of the future than most.

Jay and Gail Perry (Jason Isaacs & Martha Plimpton, respectively) are sitting in their truck outside a church on a quiet weekday morning. They are tense about going inside, worried about the conversation they will have to have. Eventually, they work up the stomach to go in, finding a small basement room set up for them. A few minutes later, Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd) arrive, looking very nervous, as if walking on thin ice. The two couples are left alone and poke around the edge of the elephant in the room with some small talk. Eventually, they are forced to confront why they are in that room: their connection through a school shooting that sent shockwaves through their lives and many more.

I was surprised to learn this film didn’t begin as a stage play. Its structure would work perfectly for theatrical production with a single setting and small core cast. There’s minimal action, and 99% of the picture is just dialogue with characters sitting at a table together. The subject matter could also set off red alerts for audiences because it could have so easily slid into hollow maudlin sentiment. However, because every element of the film is so minimal, it reduces the story’s chance to fall down that path. Writer-director Fran Kranz never gets sidetracked by unnecessary subplots or supporting characters. It’s just these people and their emotions coming out.

It cannot be overstated how strong the cast is here. If you are familiar with any of these performers, that won’t surprise you. However, I think some actors here will surprise audiences who may only be familiar with their broader, mainstream performances. Each character has processed the tragedy in a specific, very grounded way. Jay has focused his view of the shooting through a lens of politics & clinical psychology. In that way, he can distance himself from the pain of the loss. He’s tackling it as an activist who happens to be the father of a victim. His wife, Gail, is so in the pain of the loss that she often can’t even verbalize how she feels. Her experience is primal, a boiling pot of emotions overflowing as she attempts to hold the lid down.

Richard and Linda appear to be divorced after the shooting. He is more composed, almost punishing himself by not allowing emotion to come out. Richard can recite the names of all the victims and what happened to them in their final moments, something he uses to cut through the tension at one point. Linda is not entirely broken, but she’s lost in trying to understand why this all happened. She shows little interest in the politics and crime scene details but just wants to know how things got so bad. The film becomes a well-constructed spotlight moving across these people in their conversation, revealing their pain and allowing conflict to happen and be understood.

Kranz isn’t interested in figuring out why these shootings happen, and he’s not going to preach to the audience on how to solve future massacres. Instead, he’s focused entirely on these four people just having a conversation about their loss and allowing their emotions & grief to exist. This isn’t a moment where they have an epiphany or heal. That may not be possible for all of them. Instead, Kranz wants to learn if they can live with this absence in their lives or not. I am so impressed with how well the filmmaker handled this topic, never becoming overwrought, and the hurt feels real. It should go without saying this is a difficult movie to work through, especially if you are a parent, student, or educator for whom these horrible events hit home. Mass isn’t a movie that will leave you feeling like everything will be fixed one day, but that we can keep living even in the face of such overwhelming pain.

One thought on “Movie Review – Mass”

  1. Pingback: Winter 2022 Digest

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