On paper, Mass could be mistaken for an adaptation of a Tony-award-winning play. Mass is actually an original piece from writer/director Fran Kranz, who you might recognize as Marty from The Cabin in the Woods. Although his most iconic character is a shaggy stoner, Kranz is no stranger to theater. On Broadway, he’s shared the stage with talents like Philip Seymour Hoffman and James Earl Jones. While Kranz doesn’t get in front of the camera in Mass, he does enlist several theatrically inclined performers.
Before we’re introduced to our main players, we find two church employees played by Breeda Wool and Kagen Albright setting up a room. Michelle N. Carter arrives shortly after, playing a no-nonsense social worker who looks as if a bomb may go off. The remainder of the film primarily centers on two couples. Linda (Ann Dowd) and Richard (Reed Birney) are the grieving parents of a troubled boy named Hayden. Gail (Martha Plimpton) and Jay (Jason Isaacs) are also coping with the loss of their son, Evan. It doesn’t take long for the audience to figure out how Hayden and Evan are connected. Even before we delve deep into their parents’ mutual heartbreak, Mass visually plants the seeds of tragedy.
For such a dialogue-driven picture, Mass never feels like a filmed version of a play. Yang Hua Hu’s editing, Ryan Jackson-Healy’s cinematography, and several subtle yet powerful images make for a cinematic experience. The room where most of the film takes place also sets an uncomfortable, claustrophobic tone, despite the welcoming decor. While Kranz delivers a captivating feature directorial debut, his screenplay is where Mass shines the most. Kranz not only brings authenticity to how people talk, but also how they grieve. They say everyone grieves differently and the four main characters each provide a nuanced perspective.
Linda is the most overtly emotional, loving her son unconditionally while still deeply sympathizing with those he harmed. Richard is also empathetic, but he keeps everything on the inside. He approaches this meeting like a lawyer, remaining composed as if he has every response planned out. He refuses to break down, which frustrates Gail and Jay. Gail arrives at the meeting with the most resistance, barely containing her anger. Jay helps to keep Gail stable, but their relationship isn’t a one-way street. When Jay unleashes his heartbreak and bottled-up age, Gail shifts gears and reels him in.
All four characters balance each other out beautifully, making it hard to select an MVP. Plimpton may be the standout, though, as her character best conveys the five stages of grief. Gail has accepted that her son is gone and never coming back. The idea of forgiving Richard and Linda, though, is something that Gail can’t accept. Her emotional journey offers the most growth, but the film wouldn’t be complete without any of its stars. Mass wisely doesn’t ask the audience to pick a side, as there is no hero or villain in a situation like this. There’s just a tragedy that people need to work through. Facing it alone may sound easier, but if you open up, you may find closure in the most unlikely place.