‘Mass’ Review: Stages of Grief

The couples at the heart of the chamber drama “Mass” have much in common. Each pair has two children, one living and one dead. And they share the same tragedy. Linda and Richard’s son, Hayden, killed Gail and Jay’s son, Evan, in a school shooting, before turning his gun on himself.

Years have passed, and now the couples have gathered in the back room of a church to discuss their children — the one who was taken, and the one who took. Gail (Martha Plimpton) and Jay (Jason Isaacs) initiated this meeting, and their goal is to uncover the facts that led to their child’s murder. Gail and Jay ask questions, and Linda (Ann Dowd) and Richard (Reed Birney) respond, recalling attempts to seek psychological help for their son, and the decisions that did not prevent his violence.

The writer and director Fran Kranz stages this congregation like a play. The actors are seated across from each other in a single room, and the camera work is minimal, alternating between close-ups. The dialogue limits the amount of knowledge the audience is given about how or why the central horror took place. This measured approach allows the feelings that flicker across the faces of the movie’s veteran cast to register not only as markers of marvelous acting — though there is plenty of that to spare — but as events with the power to propel the introspective plot.

The movie lacks the gut punch of live theater, the thrill or discomfort of watching people show their feelings in real time. But as cinema, it demonstrates the effectiveness of simplicity. A well-written script and an exemplary cast can still produce a movie worth watching.

Rated PG-13 for references to violence. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. In theaters.

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