Running Time: 110 minutes
Written and directed by: Fran Kranz
Kendra: “Well, I’m grateful to see you all together finally. May I say that. And I’m hopeful that we all think that this was a good thing to do by the time we leave here today.”
Released recently on DVD is the independent drama “Mass” (2001) a film set mostly in one room with four people talking and explaining their own points of view on grief, as well as the result of a school shooting that occurred years before. The themes and ideas behind “Mass” are all too real in today’s society, mainly because of the sheer amount of shootings that are occurring almost every day. Already this year in the US on the 24th January there have been 36 mass shootings in the US alone – if that number had been proffered when I was young it would have been thought to unthinkable. So to make a film about the long term aftermath is not only brave but invites an audience to give very critical feedback, in this case however it offers something very special, a kind of forgiveness as well as a view into four peoples lives who have all be altered.
“Mass” revolves around Jay and Gail Perry who are parents grieving the death of their son Evan, a victim of a high school shooting. Richard and Linda are the parents of the teenage perpetrator Hayden, who killed himself after his shootings. Six years after the tragedy, both couples agree to meet and talk in a private room at an Episcopal Church. The couples had met previously, in which Jay and Gail made hurtful comments toward Richard and Linda when they were all going through the public legal procedures that resulted from the incident. Jay had since publicly advocated for gun control and against gun ownership, causing a brief debate between him and Richard.
This was a film that debuted at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to much acclaim and throughout that year maintained buzz to its release, it made an impact and garnered a BAFTA nomination for Ann Dowd as well as other awards in other groups. Make no mistake “Mass” made an impact in 2021, the only letdown was that it was nominated for any Oscars which it definitely deserved.
Written and Directed by Fran Kranz who prior to “Mass” was known as an actor, here developed and saw through a very challenging film that required people to stay in a room with four people talking about their feelings but reflecting on society at large on a subject that is not talked about in the media at all. “Mass” has the feel of a stage play or live TV drama that was subsequently adapted for the big screen, during an era when people would happily pay to see theatrical films about adults in the real world, dealing with life-changing events that could actually happen.
Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs play the parents of a teenage boy who was one of ten students murdered in a school shooting. Ann Dowd and Reed Birney are the parents of the killer, a depressed and disturbed young man. The couples agree to sit at a table in the basement of an Episcopalian church and talk about, well, everything, in hopes of moving past depression, grief and anger, through catharsis, and toward a state of acceptance, or at least insight. Even before the parents meet you can feel the tension building up until about the middle of the meeting when there is an explosion of emotion which is a like a valve going off, they go off occasionally but the first one is the most telling. The four actors all at different levels of fame, talent and age are incredible their roles, of course as it should be it is Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton who really steal the film as the Mother’s of the two boys, both are very different but at the end you can’t help but think they are in the same situation.
This is an emotional film and I don’t mean just with feelings, it does talk about politics or the availability of guns which I think is most important because the reality is in these polarised times both of those elements are never going to change to a greater or lesser degree. The decisions people have made about what side of the political spectrum they are on has been made, also the idea that gun laws will get any stricter is a pipe dream at this stage. What can change is the way parents interact with their children and how they raise them as well as just talking to them, that is a non partisan issue to be sure. Both gun ownership and gun control are political issues that hold no real place in that room with the two sets of parents, the last thing on their mind is politics.
It is interesting that the film was designed the way it has been, it would be an easy thing to translate this to the stage which would be a real treat, live it would be something else. This is not an easy film to watch especially when you start to realise what you are going to experience. However it is worth the emotion as the payoff is something uneasy but earned, I recommend this film highly.