Movies are a great source of escapism. We can forget about the real world for a while and indulge ourselves in comedy, fantasy, or thrills. But movies often serve another purpose. They can give us insight into things we may have not considered before. We can learn vicariously through the experiences of the characters on film. “Mass” is one of these films.
The movie opens in a small country church where a social worker (Michelle N. Carter) is preparing a room for a sitdown between two sets of parents. There are smiles on everyone’s faces but an awkward tension hangs in the air. The lives of the two couples have become intertwined by a tragedy, one that takes a while to reveal itself.
Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Jason Isaacs) have lost their son. They enter the meeting as the victims of the event. Jay keeps flashing a pained smile in an attempt to defuse tension and to support his wife. Gail is composed but the contempt and agony are visible simmering just below the surface. Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd) are also experiencing loss but enter the room with an aura of guilt. Linda is empathetic and tries to share her pain with the other couple, with Richard is stoic, bordering on cold. What tragedy has bonded these four people together and why did they agree to meet? The answers slowly unfold over the next hour as we are privy to their intimate meeting.
Movies that take place in a single room are usually an exercise in screenwriting and performances. “Mass” delivers on both fronts, and is especially impressive since this is the first feature written and directed by Fran Kranz, who is best known as the stoner in “Cabin in the Woods.” His screenplay not only addresses a very tough subject but grants humanity to each of the characters which we can’t help but identify with. Each adult tries to maintain their composure, but one by one, tempers flare. And one by one, a different character becomes the voice of reason that calms the room once again. It’s masterfully written and masterfully performed by each of the actors with not a single moment feeling forced or unbelievable.
“Mass” is a heavy movie. It’s not for escapism, but it is an exceptional example of the power a well-written, well-performed movie can have.