Writer and Director: Fran Kranz
The terrible aftermath of tragedy is the subject of Fran Kranz’s Mass, a debut filmmaker who could be writing for the stage as well as cinema. Gathering four characters in one confining room for 100-minutes with scores to settle and a weighty emotional subject feels like pure theatre and Kranz manages the unfolding tension and the shifting perspectives of his characters with real skill.
Jay and Gail have agreed to a face-to-face meeting at their local church with Richard and Linda, the parents of the boy who murdered their son Evan. Braced for a rocky encounter and exploding with emotion even years later, the Perrys are surprised by their connection to Haydn’s parents and their willingness to listen to their side of the story. Before the mediating social worker returns, many truths will be told.
This story of a high school shooting is extremely accomplished, managed to maintain drama and tension through quite a long conversation piece while equally providing sufficient emotional space to explore the direct consequences for the parents of the victim and the killer. No one is painted in black and white, not even the memories of the young adults who come more clearly into view as the piece unfolds as Mass tightens its grip.
Kranz drip feeds information slowly through the story and it is only much later in the film that the events of the fateful day are recounted in any detail, used, interestingly, to demonstrate how deeply affected and scarred the perpetrator’s father Richard has been, exploring a displaced feeling of guilt and powerlessness that results in him reciting the circumstances of every teenager involved in the shooting. It’s a nuanced moment that considers long-term trauma and the wider effect on the community.
The ability to wheel conversations around, bouncing between accusation and defensiveness on both sides as well as a thousand shades of grey in between is often hard to watch but the complex responses of both sets of parents as well as the ability to dig into notions of survivor’s guilt, parental responsibility and ambiguous notions of justice are very well managed in piece that credibly suggests both the original event and its heartbreaking effects on a group of people who just don’t know how to direct their grief.
Jason Isaacs as Jay is initially a typical ‘sensible’ dad, holding his rage in check and bristling with confrontational certainty waiting for his counterparts to speak, but soon the deep gulf that the death of his son has created becomes extremely affecting. Martha Plimpton’s Gail is ready to burst into tears straight away but also becomes more layered as she sees the pain in others and surprises herself by wanting more details.
Ann Dowd is really wonderful as Linda, knowing that she’s on the back foot from the start and having nothing but empathy for Jay and Gail. How she explores her own feelings of responsibility by reflecting on her parenting becomes very moving while Reed Birney’s Richard wants to be anywhere but in this room before reaching for his own catharsis.
Like Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, this meeting of parents is fraught and often brutal, yet it is always compelling viewing. It’s overly structured in places while the bookend context scenes could be edited out without any loss to the integrity of the work but this a very accomplished debut for a writer / director who may find himself on Broadway as well as Hollywood Boulevard.
Mass is screening at the London Film Festival.