Mass – SUNDANCE 2021 REVIEW

A measly church office room gets dressed for a tight-knit group of incoming visitors. This seemingly vacant setting acts as a revealing confessional hall in Mass, a confrontational chamber piece on grief and the endless search for the unanswerable. Writer/director Fran Kranz’s poised debut digs under the nails of a societal quandary with gravity and a fittingly compassionate touch.

Mass follows two couples reuniting over the common thread connecting them. Jay (Jason Isaac) and Gail (Martha Plimpton) are still recovering over the loss of their son, who died at the hands of Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda’s (Ann Dowd) son during a senseless school shooting. After previously acquainting with contentious vitriol, the two sides try to discover a semblance of closure from the life-altering events.

Amidst the holy quarters, the four explore the sentiments stewing in their minds since that infamous day. Kranz’s play-like premise could feel combustibly melodramatic in the wrong hands, but the actor-turned-director presents just the right balance to make the narrative thread resonate. His precise minimalism keeps the conversation in the forefront while preventing the oppressive rigidness of other close-quarter narratives (the motifs on religion help accent the confessional journey).

Kranz deserves significant praise for morphing a stale office room into a riveting battleground, oftentimes capturing his actors at their most emotionally vulnerable. Kranz’s stirring dialogue also touches upon the intimate evolution of grief. The characters travel between anger and empathy with a naturalistic verve, throttling a deeply-personal confrontation into a stark reflection on a deeper societal debate.

We always search for answers in the aftermath of major tragedy, but those oftentimes heated journeys lead nowhere without a sense of empathic understanding. Mass would go nowhere in this search without its dedicated performances. Isaac, Plimpton, Birney, and Dowd are universally terrific in their demanding roles, grasping towards raw sentiments without an ounce of personal vanity. Their emotive pains are able to convey the events sizable impact, creating lived-in textures lingering with unspeakable pain.

Aside from a drawn out opening act and a few distracting camera techniques (a third act aspect ratio change doesn’t benefit the narrative), Mass vaults impressive heights with its seemingly sleight set-up. The glowing initial recognition will be just the start for Kranz and his cast, as I am sure we’ll be hearing plenty of buzz come next awards season [B+].

Reviewed by Matt Conway

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