Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
Whereas I don’t have a favourite movie genre, those who read my reviews can ascertain that I tend to gravitate towards films that are adaptations of works that were originally created for live theatre. Due to stage limitations, every word used must be crafted in such a way to provide exposition, convey emotions, and advance the storyline with precision. Anyone adapting something with theatrical roots for the silver screen has the additional pressure to “open” it from its forced stage confinements to enhance it visually. MASS bucks this trend with brilliant results.
Best known as an Actor (The Cabin in the Woods), Screenwriter/Director Fran Kranz had originally intended MASS to be performed as a stage piece. What he has accomplished in his directorial debut is beyond astonishing.
Mostly set in the basement of an Episcopalian church, two sets of parents decide to meet and discuss the aftermath of a horrendous high school massacre where they hope to find insights and deal with their grief, rage, and depression. Years after the events occurred, Gail and Jay (Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs), the parents of their slain son, are still dealing with their frustration and hostility; Gail in particular seems like she is about to explode at any moment. Linda and Richard (Ann Dowd, Reed Birney) whose son shot ten students before killing himself, at first appear to be sensitive and conciliatory but that outward veneer begins to crack dramatically as the conversations painfully progress.
As we learn about how their lives have changed since the massacre, we also discover more about their dead sons. Each new revelation, whether it be about the parents or their sons, is staggering and compelling. When one adds the feeling akin to claustrophobia due to its one set, MASS may be harrowing and its subject matter difficult, but it is enthralling. Kranz wisely chose not to focus on the hot button subject of gun control and giving access to firearms to those with diminished or psychological issues. He devotes nearly all the screen time to how one deals, almost daily, with the aftermath of such unimaginable tragedy. In doing that and with his skillful direction, he has given us four of the best performances you will see in 2021. Whereas each of the four have their cinematic “moment,” collectively they are hypnotic. Martha Plimpton’s range is immeasurable: from blatant hostility to quiet, reflective moments she left me breathless. Jason Isaac belies his gruff exterior with thoughtful introspection alongside a seething inner anger. Broadway stalwart Reed Birney’s character may have the most wince-inducing dialogue but he delivers them with compassion and conviction. It may appear, at first glance, that veteran actress Ann Dowd has the most benign role in MASS, but the potency of her glances are a masterclass in reactive acting and she is the most empathetic and heartrending character; her final revelation will sting your heart. Don’t be surprised if she adds an Oscar to her mantle alongside the Emmy she won for Toronto-made “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Personally, the subject matter of school massacres is one I cannot emotionally deal with and have still not, to this day, mustered the courage to watch Denis Villeneuve’s “Polytechnique” or Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant”. But, unequivocally, MASS is a “mass”terpiece that has imprinted itself in my heart and soul and mind.
MK2 | MILE END release MASS in theatres October 15, 2021.
*Please exercise caution observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in-theatre*