Many people reading this article lived during the year 2019, the record-holding year of the most mass shootings in the United States. Where I have to give my hats off to the film industry, there was never a film about this subject immediately after these events happened. First-time writer/director Fran Kranz took his time to craft a story reflecting one of these events' horror. Based on a fictitious shooting, it follows a conversation between two sets of parents. Actors Ann Dowd and Reed Birney play the school shooter's parents in the film while Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton play the victim's parents. What follows isn't a reenactment of any events but a nearly two-hour conversation about what transpired in a fictitious school shooting.
Kranz crafts a film about people being able to talk out their unspeakable emotions in a format that could be a radio play. We leave this cast in one location, a church basement, and let them talk out their fears, angers and frustrations. The camera shifts focus between these two sets of parents and allow these actors to deliver some fantastic performances. There's never a moment where we as an audience side with one over the other for both sets. Birney and Dowd, as the shooter's parents, acknowledge the wrongdoings and allow us to sympathize with them. Isaacs and Plimpton take a very different approach by trying to be friendly but allow the tension in their feelings to build.
What I can't stress enough about the film is how these actors give themselves to this material. The pure emotional depths they go to in the film are some of the most powerful moments I've seen in quite some time. If you're not already a fan of these four fine actors, this film will show you the massive talent on display. Unfortunately, the real problem harkens down to how you feel about these very talkative films. There's a very heavy subject matter on display here, and there's a gruesome amount of detail that audiences are privy to. If this isn't something you feel mentally prepared for, the film will not leave you feeling positive.
The heavy subject matter does make the film somewhat difficult to stomach at times. Once these families get into the details of what exactly happened, Kranz holds nothing back in making the audience live through it. We feel like we were right in the room of such a vicious tragedy that made these kids lose their lives. Thankfully with this cast, we're also allowed to feel as emotionally involved as these parents. I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't completely wiped out emotionally as these parents. Which in hindsight, is what I believe the point of the film to be. Having seen it a few weeks ago, it's one that I can't seem to get out of my mind.
"Mass" is by no means a form of easy cinematic viewing. Especially from a first-time director, I assumed it would've been an automatic misfire. What makes the film stand out is the cast and the single setting. Doing this allows Kranz to let his cast, not their surroundings, be the driving force in front of the camera. This lets them act in some very heavy moments that show great respect for the material. Though a fictitious story, there's still a significant amount of care in how it's handled. This is why I think it's undoubtedly essential viewing and makes me excited about what this filmmaker can do next.