A surprisingly dynamic directorial debut
A film centred around a meeting between four people in a church room may not be something that arouses your interest. However, despite the low-key setting and talky nature of Fran Kranz’s directorial debut, the film is surprisingly dynamic. Sure, there are no action sequences but on an emotional level, this is a real gut-punch of a production.
It takes place years after a violent act at a high school that took the lives of several children. The exact nature of the tragic event isn’t revealed immediately. Instead, we find ourselves introduced to two sets of parents – Reed Birney and Ann Dowd alongside Jason Isaacs and Marth Plimpton – who get together for a sit-down meeting at an Episcopalian church. They are polite with one another at first but as they sit down to talk, we learn more about why they have come to share the room with one another.
As conversations take place, we learn that they are all grieving for their children. However, two are held to blame for what happened on the fateful school day when the act of atrocity took place. It later transpires that one of their children is the perpetrator of the murders.
Going into the film, it’s important that you prepare yourself for the difficult journey these characters go through in the space of a couple of hours. They are all looking for answers but these aren’t easy to come by. There is nobody to blame for what happened other than the person who committed the crime, and he is dead. Why did he do what he did? He is unable to answer for himself which is why his parents are held to account for his actions.
In truth, America’s gun problems and the failings of the mental health system are the bigger culprits, but for the parents whose son was killed, it’s easier to focus attention on his parents. Why didn’t they do more to curb his loner behaviour? Why didn’t they pay attention to his actions weeks before the tragedy? Why didn’t they seek to get him more help for his problems? These are just some of the questions that are asked as the emotional tempo rises.
No one has answers for what happened, of course. They are all trying to come to terms with what happened and the process has been traumatic for every one of them. The loss of a child is something that no one should have to go through, even when the child is guilty of monstrous behaviour.
Beyond the tragic narrative at the heart of the film, we need to consider the excellent work both in front and behind the camera. All four actors excel in their roles, with career-best performances as they exhibit the emotional reactions of their characters. The fact that they have to act within very long takes is also an achievement, and I can only assume that they had to go through many hours of rehearsal to perfect everything they were called upon to do.
Kudos need to be given to the director too. Kranz, previously known for his acting work in such films as The Cabin in the Woods, shows real talent here as he captures the building tensions that occur within the room. The camera is placed on each character at just the right moment, capturing every ounce of emotion that each actor displays.
My only issue with the film is the resolution of the meeting. The two sets of parents are at loggerheads throughout most of the film’s run but as the emotions settle, the interaction takes a turn that is expected but not entirely earned. Of course, it might be that I need to rewatch the film as this might change my opinion. But on my first viewing, I wasn’t quite convinced about one character’s change of feeling.
Still, this shouldn’t take away from the overall power of the film. And the fact that it takes place in a church, with Christ’s cross hanging just beside them, is quite significant. It’s a symbol of the place each character needs to come to, both inwardly and outwardly. Be prepared to have a box of tissues at the ready, because like the grieving parents meeting in that private church room, you are going to need them.
Verdict - 7.5/10