SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Fran Kranz’s debut feature-length dramatic film Mass will linger in your head as you process its ability to provide solace in the face of atrocity. Perhaps the most defining quality it exudes is Kranz’s ability to evoke impressive thought-provoking drama within a bare environment of a table, chairs, and four people in an auxiliary church space, the primary location for the entire film.
There are many intentional elements in Mass, which add to the striking performances and direction when it is mostly just a meeting and a discussion. However, the subject of this convention and its intention is what brings two sets of parents together, Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd) and Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton). They have all convened to discuss a tragedy and the ability to move on from it.
Richard and Linda’s son was a gunman in a mass high school shooting, killing Jay and Gail’s son. A meeting between the two couples has been set up to offer healing to the situation, which occurred some time ago. For many of us, this subject matter has only been seen and realized through the media’s reports and images, which fades in time. However, it is the overtime disconnect to mass shootings, which makes Mass so very poignant. Kranz presents, very clearly, the position of the parents and how they have been individually coping with loss and death as well as responsibility—especially revealing in how a parent handles their child being a murderer.
“Richard and Linda’s son was a gunman in a mass high school shooting, killing Jay and Gail’s son.”
A gift exchange followed by photos leads to a heated discussion on how everyone feels about their loss, each other’s loss, and the ability to forgive. Tough communication and sharing stories somehow create a center of gravity to this horrific situation that has connected these two couples, which, in reality, many people have had to endure.
The many connotations the title Mass presents, which include using a church, cancer, and the ability to repent, are all a construct adding to the unseen layers of Kranz’s well-scripted and acted film. All four main actors fully engaged in their roles because the material existed for them to do so. The drama could have easily been a play, as it does take necessary act breaks with a cutaway to a lonely field. The direction and editing decisions add to the tension and emotion, which may have gotten lost in another medium, though.
A reviewer’s note: The location of Mass is immaterial to its purpose; however, it takes place in Hailey, Idaho, a small town in the Wood River Valley located in South-central Idaho. I lived near Hailey for more than a decade, and to see the credits roll, with so many familiar names, brought a smile to my face and reveals how talent is everywhere, whether hidden in the hills or out there on the streets.
Mass premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…direction and editing decisions add to the tension and emotion..."