The Daily Stream: Fran Kranz's Mass Is A One-Room Tour De Force Of Cathartic Proportions

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Mass"

Where You Can Watch It: Hulu

The Pitch: Set almost entirely in a back room at a church facility, "Mass" follows two sets of grieving parents who decide to face their overwhelming fears and emotions, and come together to talk things out in the wake of an unspeakable violent tragedy that shook both of their families to the core years earlier. To say any more about the connection of the families and the root of their trauma is to really spoil the experience, so don't look any further than this synopsis before watching the film. Trust me, it's worth it.

Why it's essential viewing

Making art about tragedies that seem senseless can be difficult, but put them in one room and it's a daunting task all its own. It's clear this wasn't an easy project for writer-director Fran Kranz, who is charged with building a story that is both sensitive and willing to break conventions, not to mention willing to elevate the one-location concept. The actor — who is perhaps best known for his role in meta-horror classic "Cabin in the Woods" and the short-lived Joss Whedon series "Dollhouse" — ended up really proving himself with this piece, because it does all of those things. But it also does one better and adds something really crucial to the mix: a set of actors who can meet the severity of the moment.

While Kranz shines behind the camera with "Mass," his actors are the real reason to watch this bold, brash, and heartbreaking gem. One couple is played by Ann Dowd and Reed Birney, while the other is played by Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs. Dowd has been having this beautiful renaissance in her career over the last few years, so her role in the film really comes as no surprise. Birney is no stranger to intense bare-bones performances like this one — in 2016, he won a Tony for the role Richard Jenkins plays in the 2021 film version of "The Humans" — another single-location acting tour de force. Plimpton and Isaacs are the outliers here, with her most famous role coming from her breakout in 1986's "The Goonies" and his from a multi-part magical series called "Harry Potter." It's true that even as audiences we typecast, and then we are sometimes slow to warm to the idea of that performer stepping outside their personal box. But this film was a beautiful opportunity for Plimpton and Isaac to flex their acting muscles and show folks who are already familiar with their work that they're layered and complex actors. Plimpton and Isaac are in top form during this tragic story, and I have yet to stop being impressed by how much they give during the run time.

It's almost unfair to say any one person of the four has the "best" performance of the film, because their choices and character impulses are intrinsically linked due to what they've been through — and they all totally deliver. The catharsis that is birthed from these four characters is on a level that is only reserved for the most stirring and effective of pictures. However, it really is important to highlight how utterly devastating Dowd is in this movie. Time and time again, she comes equipped with all of her smartest and most subtle acting choices, ready to tear your heart apart. She is a singular talent, which this film only amplifies, and it should come as no surprise that she is finally getting her due in the industry with meaty, exciting parts that most older women only dream of.

Essentially, my advice for you with this one boils down to a few key points. Come for the acting, stay for the acting, and don't forget the tissues.