London Film Festival: Mass (2021)

Director: Fran Kranz

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Starring: Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton

Often seen in supporting roles, Fran Kranz is a reliable actor notable for his kinetic and scene-stealing presence. Those familiar with his comedic portrayals in Dollhouse and The Cabin In The Woods may be shocked by his directorial debut, a somber and absorbing experience grappling with the aftermath of an unimaginable tragedy.

Six years after a school shooting, the parents of a victim and the perpetrator meet to work through their emotions and make sense of what happened. As the four adults sit in a room face-to-face, the evident pain and sadness comes pouring out through revealing conversations. The spectre of gun violence and its politics looms over the tale, though Kranz wisely sidesteps over this subject to explore the feelings of those left in its aftermath.

Central to this tale are a quartet of exceptional performances, each capturing the inner turmoil of their characters while the powerful story offers them a moment to shine. As the parents of the gunman, Richard (Birney) feels he failed his son while Linda (Dowd) still sees him as her baby, although accepts how she never truly knew her son. For the victim's parents, Jay (Isaacs) tries to understand what led to the life-altering actions and Gail (Plimpton) worries the tragedy means nothing when little has changed in the world. If there's any justice, awards season would include heaps of recognition for these four.

What's key is how the story never feels stagey or engineered to scoop up awards, instead capturing a raw portrait of parents in unfathomable pain, left baring all and questioning everything. The camera focuses on these characters as they share painful tales, while their reactions say a thousand words. While grappling with the why of what happened, these parents are looking to share, listen, and heal, and the performances exceptionally capture each facet of these complicated emotions.

Most crucial is how the subject matter's handling never feels exploitative, approached with sensitivity and intelligence across the 110-minute runtime. For his writing/directing debut, Kranz has impeccably delivered a masterful tale in the most gripping ways, ready to leave viewers stunned and teary.

Mass played at the London Film Festival, and will be released by Sky Cinema in 2022