On paper, Mass might not seem like something you'd want to put yourself through, but you'd be missing out on an extraordinary movie.
The movie – now out on Sky Cinema and in UK cinemas – centres on two sets of parents who, years after an unspeakable tragedy, agree to meet in an attempt to move forward with their lives. It's not necessarily a spoiler to say the tragedy involved a school shooting, but the movie takes its time to eke out the details.
It's not even until Gail (Martha Plimpton) drops a devastating line about 30 minutes in that you're even sure which side is which. Are Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail the parents of the victim or are Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd)? In some ways, it doesn't matter as writer/director Fran Kranz wants to explore wider issues, using the incident that inextricably linked their lives as the starting point.
The majority of Mass consists of this emotionally raw conversation between the two sets of parents, so it's not an easy watch. But with all four lead actors delivering flawless performances, it's a movie that is always compelling in its exploration of grief.
The conversation takes place in a nondescript back room of a church, which we see getting set up in the beginning. Once both sets of parents have arrived, Kranz puts us in that room and doesn't leave for more than an hour. It plays out in real time, every excruciating moment of silence and awkward small talk included.
You'd be forgiven for thinking the movie started out as a play (it didn't) given the single-location nature of much of its runtime. However, it never ends up feeling stagey and Kranz uses the contained environment to make you feel as the characters do. They haven't been able to escape their grief and what this incident has done to their lives; by leaving you in the room with them, you get a sense of how all-encompassing it has been.
Of course, it helps that for this stripped-back, dialogue-heavy movie, Kranz has brought together four terrific actors who all raise their game. It feels churlish to single out any of Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd or Reed Birney as they're all exceptional, each wringing their stand-out monologues for full emotional impact.
Their performances aren't showy or mannered as you could imagine them being in lesser hands. So much is portrayed in the silence and the reactions between all four, their internalised pain breaking through only in flashes to make it all the more impactful. They're all worthy of awards recognition, but Mass has been criminally overlooked to date.
The conversation effectively sees all of the characters go through the five stages of grief as they attempt to understand the unexplainable. Kranz's exceptional script never sensationalises or exploits the all-too-real tragedy of school shootings, and is careful to showcase both sides.
It would be easy for Mass to villainise and blame the parents of the killer, but Kranz knows that there are only grey areas and he isn't interested in giving easy answers. The facts only go so far – sometimes there isn't an explanation to be found. Just as the two sets of parents question everything, you'll end Mass with no definitive conclusion of why the shocking event happened, but that's exactly why it lingers with you.
"You think you can attach one word to something in order to understand it. To make you feel safe? Well, I won't say it. I don't believe it," Richard tells Jay, and that could be Kranz talking to the viewer. Mass is a movie that respects the viewer's intelligence, offering the various 'explanations' (video games, undiagnosed conditions and more) and gives you the space to come to your own conclusion.
That's not to say there isn't a satisfying conclusion to the conversation that takes us the bulk of the movie. It's more that the movie gives plenty to chew over after watching, and lingers in the memory once the credits have rolled.
Quite simply, Mass is already sure to end up on top ten lists of the best movies of 2022. It's a moving, thought-provoking and powerful drama with four of the strongest performances you're likely to see this year.
How to watch Mass online
Mass is available to watch right now on Sky Cinema if you're a Sky subscriber with access to the movie channels. If you're a Sky subscriber without Sky Cinema, you can sign up for £11 extra a month for a minimum 18-month contract.
If you're not a Sky subscriber, you can sign up with one of Sky's ongoing deals, including the Sky + Cinema + Netflix package that gives you a bunch of Sky channels, including the Cinema channels, and access to everything on Netflix, for £37 a month over an 18-month period.
Mass is also available to watch on NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership which costs £9.99 a month and comes with a seven-day free trial.
Mass is available to watch now on Sky Cinema and is also out in UK cinemas.
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