SUNDANCE REVIEW – “Mass”
In one of the heaviest films I’ve seen in quite sometime, Mass is set primarily in one-location for a duration of its running time. The film largely follows two families sitting in a room at a church, discussing a mass shooting that affected them in different ways. Jay and Gail (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton) are two parents who lost their son in the shooting they’re discussing. Richard and Linda (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) are the parents of the teen who was behind the shooting. The film isn’t in a hurry for you to know all the intricacies of the plot and everything the two families have to say to one another, but first time director/writer Fran Kranz is well-aware of what all you need to know and what can be left to your imagination.
One of my absolute favorite aspects of Mass is just how much it doesn’t feel like a feature-film. This sounds like a weird compliment to pay a film, but I liken it something like a stage play. On top of not leaving one location for the duration of its running time, the film also is incredibly dialogue heavy. There is nothing going on in the film that is particularly cinematic, but it feels so wildly intimate and passionate about the topic that you can’t imagine it quite on any other medium. I often find that films that are either adapted from stage plays or feel like stage plays can be duds, but Mass is simply an exception to that idea.
A really important thing to me when films like Mass deal with such heavy subject matter is how authentic it feels. You can make something with powerful performances still feel a bit exploitative by nature, but luckily there’s absolutely nothing here that feels exploitative or hacky. It all feels somehow simultaneously sensitive to the material but emotionally raw and honest about the different perspectives and situations each family here finds themselves in when dealing with the aftermath of the shooting years after it has happened. You feel so heavily, in every frame, that the event aged and traumatized them heavily. It would be interesting to see them talk about it soon after it happened, but it’s even more fascinating when you not only are told but believe that a significant amount of time has passed since the event.
As far as flaws go, I would be hard pressed to find any. It’s a hard film to personally adore simply because it is so heavy in nature, but as far as being a work of art meant to invoke sympathy and conversation for victims of gun violence in America – it exceeds time and time again when displaying its message and having a genuine and thoughtful dialogue throughout its excellent screenplay. Each actor is tremendous in this film, and I wouldn’t object to seeing any of them getting Oscar consideration this time next year. As of writing this review, no studio has acquired it – but I hope someone does, with awards attention in mind. This is an extremely powerful and important film that needs to find an audience. An absolutely spectacular directorial and writing debut from Fran Kranz.