Why do you want to know about my son?
Because he killed mine.
Somewhere in Idaho, four adults sit around a table in the backroom of an Episcopalian church. They are Gail (Martha Plimpton) and Jay (Jason Isaacs), Linda (Ann Dowd) and Richard (Reed Birney). One of the couples is still together; the other has separated. Both have lost their sons in a school shooting, and both are grieving a terrible loss. But one set is grieving in a slightly different way: Their son was the shooter.
I won’t reveal who is who and which is which because one of the most effective tricks of writer/director Fran Kanz’s debut feature, Mass, is that he doesn’t show his cards immediately. I hesitate to call it a “trick” because that makes it sound like a gimmick. It’s not. Instead, it disarms the audience of preconceptions, forcing us to build our understanding of each character through their words. And words are pretty much all they have: Mass takes place almost entirely in one room with little more to dress the set than a table, four chairs, a crucifix, a box of Kleenex, and a few bottles of water in the back. That cinematographer Ryan Jackson-Healy and editor Yang Hua Hu can keep this visually and emotionally engaging is a feat.
And engaging Mass is. The writing is top-notch, and the performances are even better. The father of the victim is so full of politics, activism, and talking points he’s convinced himself that there must be a simple root cause as to why his son is dead. The victim’s mother isn’t so sure, but she’s afraid that letting go of this anger, this sadness, means she has to let go of her son. On the other side of the table, the mother of the shooter wonders when her shy little boy became a monster, while the father has taken it upon himself to consider everything about his son and his son’s actions—even everything about the victims—as a form of penance. I feel the worst for him because his cool detachment betrays a heart so horrifically broken I doubt he can conceive of it being whole again.
This meeting was orchestrated by Kendra (Michelle N. Carter), a counselor who hopes that getting both sets together might allow them to grieve together. To look across a table and see not differences but similarities. Why not? Blessed be the ties that bind, and like it or not, these four will forever be inextricably intertwined.
Written and directed by Fran Kranz
Produced by Fran Kranz, Dylan Matlock, Casey Wilder Mott, J.P. Ouellette
Starring: Breeda Wool, Kagen Albright, Michelle N. Carter, Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs, Reed Birney, Ann Dowd
Bleecker Street, Rated PG-13, Running time 110 minutes, Opens Oct. 22, 2021.