Thoughts and prayers are commonly expressed immediately after a mass tragedy has occurred. However, after the media coverage dies down and those attempting to score political points have moved on to a new topic, it is those left behind who are left to pick up the pieces. It is these individuals who are trying their best not to drown under the waves of grief and anger that Fran Kranz’s Mass swims with.
Grief is something that parents Richard and Linda (Reed Birney & Ann Dowd) and Jay and Gail (Jason Isaacs & Martha Plimpton) know all to well. Six years after an unimaginable tragedy tore their individual families apart, the two sets of parents have agreed to come together to talk privately. The goal of the meeting, encouraged by Jay and Gail’s therapist, is to attempt to move forward in the healing process. It is meant to be a conversation and not an inquisition. A task easier said in done.
Despite the pleasantries that they exchange at the beginning of the meeting, the fact remains that it was Richard and Linda’s son Hayden who killed Jay and Gail’s son Evan.
One can feel the tension building even before the two pairs of parents even arrive at the church where their discourse will take place. Kranz wisely spends the opening moments of the film focusing not on the parents, but rather two members, Judy (Breeda Wool) and Anthony (Kagen Albright), of the Episcopal church who are working on setting up the anteroom for the meeting. Judy is particularly concerned about getting the decor just right. Through her brief conversation with Anthony and a mediator, Kendra (Michelle N. Carter), who arrives to review the room, one learns just enough to understand the jagged eggshells that the parents are about to walk on.
Making the entire situation even more unnerving is that Kranz sets the bulk of the film in the church. He traps the audience in the room with both couples as the long simmering emotions quickly boil over. This minimalist approach really allows the stellar ensemble to shine. Each performance is ripe with gut-wrenching complexity. Individuals like Plimpton’s Gail wear the anger and disdain they feel on their face. This is nicely contrasted with characters like Dowd’s Linda who slowly reveal the inner grief and guilt they are burdened with carrying.
What makes these revelations so compelling is that it serves as a reminder of how easy it is to become consumed with one’s own pain. We often forget that others in the room with us might also be navigating similar trauma from a different perspective.
The pain in the room is present and palpable in every scene. A powerful meditation on grief, guilt, and loss, Kranz’s directorial debut is overflowing with emotion. Mass does not seek to find a quick answer or easy fixes to the suffocating grief that hangs densely in the air. It wallows in the uncomfortableness strategically picking when, such as cutting away to a shot of a wire fence with a solitary ribbon on it, to provide the characters a chance to catch their breath. This opens the door for some emotionally powerful scenes and offers an opportunity for the audience to reflect on the families often must suffer in silence long after the media spotlight has dimmed.
While Kranz does briefly touch on the political discourse that often arises around gun legislation, the film is more concerned with reminding viewers of the ripple effect that impacts the loved ones, regardless of whether they are tied to the assailant and/or the victims, the most. By giving a face to those on both sides, Mass skillfully highlights how no one comes out unscathed. The best one can hope for is to find some sort of healing that will help to ease the weight of the grief and provide the strength to somehow continue moving forward with life.