Jason Issacs stars in Mass as the parent of a child who was the victim of a school shooting. He’s joined by his wife and the parents of the child who committed the shooting in question. The two couples are sat together in a church to air out their feelings to one another and the turmoil of both families is revealed through their conversations.
Mass is very much a film centered solely on acting. There’s a few interesting uses of framing and camera angles here and there, but ultimately the film consists completely of four performances and a very solid script. As would be expected, all four actors are great in their roles and you do end up really sympathizing for all of the characters by the conclusion. The script does do a great job of fleshing out these people and making you utterly aware of their pain. What’s more is that it never gets bogged down in the politics of gun control, the characters actively make a point of not bringing it up. Instead it focuses solely on the emotional toll gun violence can have.
With a film like this is that it does end up feeling a bit more like a play than a film. While the performances are very good, they feel very theatrical at times and this can often come off as a bit pretentious. Mass is being hailed as a very impressive feature debut for Fran Kranz but really it’s not too dissimilar from the sort of films you’d see being made on a university film course. It’s well written, acted and directed to an extent but it’s hardly comparable to other directors’ debuts. Whether you consider Memento or Following to be Christopher Nolan’s first feature, both are much more impressive in concept, story and directorial flair.
Moreover, Netflix recently released a short film called If Anything Happens, I Love You which covers the same themes as Mass but in a much more emotionally impactful way and it does it in a much, much shorter run time. The achievements of actors in this film can’t in anyway be denied, but when a 10 minute short is better at getting emotions out of the same topic as a 2 hour film with no dialogue and no cameras then something isn’t quite right with those 2 hours.
Carnage is a very similar film to Mass in the sense that they’re both films set in one room where two couples have an argument over their children. The difference is though that Carnage is a comedy with a much bigger cast including, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster, John C Riley and Kate Winslet. If Mass left you quite emotionally drained then that will be a good palette cleanser.
Mass is a very impressive film for the show reels of all the actors involved. It’s a very intimate portrait of grief in the aftermath of one of the ultimate tragedies a parent can go through. However, it’s not the most engaging film ever made and there’s other, better examples of films that do what Mass tries to achieve.
Mass is playing at BFI London Film Festival 6-17 October