“Mass,” while not the most ambitious film of the year, delivers on four rock solid lead performances and tight technical aspects. For only being the director’s first movie, it is an impressive and enticing start to a hopefully fruitful career.

“Mass” is the debut feature film from actor turned director Fran Kranz, best known for his roles in “Dollhouse,” “The Cabin in the Woods” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” The film stars Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd and Reed Birney. It follows the parents of a school shooting victim (Isaacs and Plimpton) who meet up with the parents of the perpetrator (Dowd and Birney) in a church basement after a number of years have passed since the incident. They sit down and talk about the past, their memories, mistakes and emotions since last meeting each other.

The most immediately compelling aspect of “Mass” are the four main actors. Each of the leads put their all into their roles, delivering wonderful performances that never for a second feel unconvincing. 

The emotions are well conveyed to an almost uncomfortable degree and to the point where I felt like a fly on the wall looking in on a candid expression of emotion. The writing definitely factors into this, as the conversation flows incredibly naturally and moves in interesting directions. What’s better is that the four characters each feel incredibly well defined and are exceedingly consistent in how they express themselves in terms of self-control and emotional range.

I love the ebb and flow of tension throughout the film. The characters feel like they are a few wrong words away from their breaking points, and this is all expressed through body language and line delivery. What makes this ebb and flow even more impactful is how it is incorporated into the very DNA of the presentation of the film. Decisions made in the second half, with the cinematography, perfectly complements the emotional tone of the film. The costume and set design, while minimal, was well done. Each character had a distinct and memorable set of clothes, and the environment in which the conversation takes place is memorable.

While not inherently a negative, there are some notable limitations to the ambition of this movie. Namely, the script feels less like one written for a movie, but more akin to one written for a play because of the limited number of locations and characters. I can see some people finding this relative lack of scope and scale frustrating, especially given the medium. I personally think the limitations are excusable because the intimacy of the camera allows for the audience to read the characters’ body language and derive additional information about the emotions from that. Additionally, a low scope film allows for Kranz to really nail the fundamentals of his first feature quite well.

In general, my feelings about the script are mostly positive, but there are some hiccups in regards to the structure of the film. These problems are best exemplified by the opening scene, where we see the basement of the church being set up for the meeting by a grief counselor and two church employees. While the awkwardness of the situation is definitely emphasized, this scene was largely too long and tedious. It was not aided by the fact that Kagen Albright, who played one of the employees, was not good in his role, his delivery feeling wooden and forced. The point is, mainly, that when the film focuses on the main four, it is fantastic, and when it does not, it feels a touch unnecessary. 

In conclusion, while not the most ambitious film, “Mass” is a stunningly sturdy debut feature from Kranz. I cannot wait to see what he writes and directs next, preferably with a larger scope and budget. I would give “Mass” a 7/10, and I would recommend this movie to people who love dialogue-driven films and can handle something with heavier subject matter.