Actor Fran Kranz' directorial debut MASS feels like a dramatised play - an intense four-hander where two couples meet in a church to explain why one couple's child committed a mass shooting that killed the other couples' child. The former, Richard and Linda, are played by Reed Birney and Ann Dowd (THE HANDMAID'S TALE) - the latter, Jay and Gail, by Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton.
The shooter's parents explain how their child was lonely and bullied in a new school and retreated into an online world. He became depressed and the parents struggled to ensure the right medical treatment. He was interested in bombs and tried to make a bomb. But they didn't tell the school because his grades were good and they didn't want to jeopardise his schooling. With the benefit of hindsight they realise their son was lying.
At the other end of the table, Jay is quiet. He stresses they didn't and don't want to sue. He has been active in campaigning for gun control but doesn't see that as political. It's the most quiet and moving performance I have ever seen from Jason Isaacs, who is often cast as a blustering super-confident charismatic alpha male. I hope it earns his award nominations. Meanwhile, his wife Gail starts off as merely enquiring but becomes more and more frustrated, clearly seeking an answer and a reason for her child's death, and almost forcing the other parents to admit - what - guilt? Culpability? Incompetence as parents?
The resulting film is a rightly tough watch as we are trapped at the table with four people in grief and anger and hear of a fifth who was clearly also deeply disturbed. There are no easy answers or resolutions. And I chose to take the closing choral music as ironic. I do not feel any of these parents feels safe or at peace.
MASS has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film played Sundance and the BFI London Film Festival 2021.