Two sets of parents meet in a plainly furnished room in an Episcopalian Church located in a small town. Because the talk is awkward and strained, we anticipate something uncomfortable will happen.
The movie eventually reveals that Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton) are meeting with the parents (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) of the teenager who killed their son in a school shooting that took place years before.
The meeting has been arranged by a third party (Michelle N. Carter) to promote healing. It's apparent from the outset that the shooter's motivations never will be entirely clear. What’s not clear is what Jay and Gail hope to gain. What do they really want from Birney's Richard and Dowd's Linda?
Richard and Linda seem to be fulfilling an obligation and none of the participants has a handle on how to behave. Who would?
Extreme politeness masks angry feelings that gradually emerge and which, more than anything, demonstrate the impossibility of knowing the root causes of such violence: References to bullying, video games, guns, and ignored signals are made, but none seem satisfactory.
Filmed in a church in Idaho, the movie locates its story in what might be considered a bedrock of American decency, a church where the choir rehearses and where a nervous church worker (Breeda Wool) sets out drinks and food, offering hospitality where none is needed.
Although Mass could have been a play, director Fran Kranz wisely makes few attempts to open things up. He puts four people into a claustrophobic environment to which all of them are inexorably drawn.
Can the meeting result in any level of forgiveness?
The actors define four distinct characters. Isaacs's Jay tries to keep an even keel. Plimpton's Gail squirms and simmers. Birney plays a man who appears to be rational, perhaps overly so, and Dowd gives full expression to Linda's endless torment.
Of all the performances, Plimpton's hit me the hardest, but the entire cast does justice to four emotionally ruined parents whose pain never will abate but who, in deeply human fashion, try to understand the incomprehensible and free themselves from a bit of their agony.