Make no mistake. This is a difficult psychological drama to watch, as first-time writer/director Fran Kranz delves into the grief of two sets of parents whose children were involved in a high-school shooting. How do people cope with this kind of tragedy? And how do they ever move on?
Six years later, Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton), whose son Evan was killed, have come to talk – face-to-face – with Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd), who not only lost their son Hayden but were blamed over the years by many of the families of those he massacred.
Wisely, Fran Kranz filmed their emotional encounter in chronological order, as the four sit awkwardly around a small table in an Episcopal church’s claustrophobic basement. There are no flashbacks or cutaways to the event being discussed.
During the uninterrupted conversation, questions abound as resentment leads to understanding. Eventually, each character experiences a personal epiphany in trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy.
In this actors’ showcase, Ann Dowd, who won an Emmy for her portrayal of fearsome Aunt Lydia on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is particularly enthralling. Linda doesn’t ask for forgiveness or defend her son, confessing that, although he was loved: “I raised a murderer.”
After the shooting, Linda and Richard were alerted that something dreadful had happened but were kept apart during the police questioning. They are now divorced; Hayden’s actions destroyed their marriage. While guilt-riddled Linda is forthright and honest, Richard is more aloof and almost defiant.
As Jay, Jason Isaacs admits he wants Linda and Richard to feel “regret” or “pain.” Yet knowing, even if they do, it doesn’t give him or Gail any relief. Perpetuating the hatred only poisons, so it seems that acceptance and the power of forgiveness are the lessons here.
Not surprisingly, the catalyst for actor-turned-filmmaker Kranz’s grimly challenging script was the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Mass” is a poignant, subtle 7, evoking a genuine catharsis.