Go

Mass

Year: 2021
Production Co: Bleecker St Media
Director: Fran Kranz
Producer: Fran Kranz
Writer: Fran Kranz
Cast: Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Reed Barney, Ann Dowd

You wouldn't think there'd be much to recommend a movie about four people talking in a room, but this film is proof that the most gripping thing to watch on screens is characters experiencing (and conveying) drama. Like director Mick Garris has always said about effective horror, the genre is first and foremost about drama.

The only reason I put it on my list was because of the moment in the trailer when the answer to a simple question is, while softly spoken, as devastating as a gunshot; 'because your son killed mine'.

There's a mostly superfluous (albeit realistic) opening where an overeager lady who works in a suburban church is hurriedly preparing an ante-room for some very important meeting she's taking very seriously. When the officious social worker facilitating the whole thing shows up the attendant almost goes into a nervous overdrive, wondering if she should put out coffee, whether there's enough snacks, etc.

I call it superfluous because it doesn't add anything to the core story being told, but it skilfully establishes a slowly building tone where the meeting is going to be about something of great importance (even if you haven't seen the trailer).

The two couples arrive, Gail and Jay (Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs) and Richard and Linda (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd), with the latter two it turns out now divorced.

As each couple arrives their behaviour makes you even more worried about what's going to go on – Gail can barely muster the courage to enter, and only does so at Jay's gentle urging. I was very curious to see how effective her response would be as a storytelling device if I didn't know what the meeting was about from the trailer.

it turns out that years before, Richard and Linda's son embarked on a shooting rampage at his school, killing several people including Gail and Jay's boy, and then himself. The enquiries, media attention, legal fallout and initial shock have worn off and the four are going to meet to see if any of them can get some closure.

Despite the four leads barely getting up from their chairs, the conversation is the emotional equivalent of an action movie, wheeling between hate, blame, understanding, grief and the desperate dance of trying to control and direct anger constructively.

Gail and Jay want Linda and Richard to give them some sense of how much their parenting had to do with their son's going off the rails so they can find the most elusive of closures, a reason. Linda, and to a lesser extent Richard (who's the most level headed of the group), want the same, but don't want it with equal determination because it will definitively reveal they raised a monster.

And all the while tension, blame and hatred threaten to spill over, the foursome try desperately to keep a lid on their grief, knowing deep down there might not be anything anyone could have done, that it's all over anyway and that their dead children aren't coming back either way no matter who they direct their rage at.

There's a minimum of spotlit grandstanding of characters one-upping each other with increasingly profound bombshells – the few scenes that tend in that direction are appreciably toned down, although Dowd in particular has a tendency to over-egg the pudding in a few of her oratories.

But it's as searing and heartfelt as you hope going in. The script and performances are honest and raw, the catharsis earned and the emotional resolution beautiful. If it doesn't make you cry at least on the inside, you're a robot.

And what a cool sight for an 80s kid like me to see Gen X icon Martha Plimpton back on screens, and how lovely to discover what a good actor she still is.

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