Not all films are created equal. Some have better production values, or a stronger cast. Some have well-refined stories, or better marketing. Even with all of these, a film may be less than worthy of your attention, merely because it fails to connect. Still, there remains the possibility that you will find a jewel of a film that dominates your attention, and demands that you consider what it has to say to your soul. Catastasis, the thriller by writer, director, and star, Anthony Hackett, is one of those films.
*This film is not for all audiences due to themes and violence.*
Pastor Robert Peterson (Hackett) wakes up to a sun-drenched day, fixes breakfast for his wife, Julia (Mariela Hill), and smiles as he thinks of his young infant son. And then the phone rings. The man on the other end of the phone (Eric Slodysko) orders him not to leave the house, to reveal the nature of the call to his wife, or to call the police, if he ever wants to see his son alive again.
It’s rare that I think a film could please both the Christian audience and a wider, broader one who isn’t specifically seeking a message. But while the caller’s vengeance toward Peterson involves a six-week counseling session from several years prior, the tension in the phone call isn’t “just” about Peterson’s role as pastor.
The caller tells Peterson that he implemented everything Peterson advised him, but that he lost his wife, his daughter, and his job, ending up hospitalized with thousands of dollars in bills. His motivation is anger, but he plays out his revenge in a way that subtly mirrors Se7en. [The phone call motif will also remind some audiences of Phone Booth, Firewall, The Box, and Buried.] It’s dark and dangerous, but Catastasis ramps up the dread and panic without showing too much on screen.
“Catastasis” means “the part of a drama, preceding the catastrophe.” As the audience, we wonder how things could get much worse than they are within the first few minutes of the phone call. But those who proceed down this cautionary tale of relationships, ministry, and consequences will discover that once you’ve entered the rabbit hole, it’s a long way down.
First, the caller urges Peterson to “come clean” to his wife about his pornography addiction. A flashback to the counseling sessions reveals that Peterson used John 8:32 to proof text the situation the man was in, and the man calls him on his own hypocrisy: “[It is sick that] a pastor, who preaches about respecting women and loving women, … creeps around watching other men’s daughters having sex with strange men.” You would expect that this might be as bad as it could get, but it’s just beginning.
Next, the two argue about the power of prayer, reflecting on Peterson’s use of Matthew 22:21 out of context, and promising the man that God knew better than he did about his marriage. Money is the next target the caller sets his sights on, before turning things toward honesty and transparency, and finally anger and vengeance. The seven deadly sins are here, but they unfold in a narrative way that doesn’t batter us with it: emotionally, the film delivers enough of that!
I’ll admit that the film blew me away. I’ve seen plenty of these films, but I never saw the ending coming. Thanks to the narrative and smart cinematography, Hackett set me up for an even stronger emotional reaction than I could’ve expected. Sure, he touched on some humor, thanks to the dating couple, Lyz & Darren (Leshe Shari and Derek Bridges), and it was certainly exciting. But what Hackett accomplishes, in making us examine our own decision-making and ideals, is truly amazing.
This is a film intended for mature audiences. It has a PG-13 rating for themes and violence, that is certainly justified. It releases April 3!
"What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see." - Hebrews 11:1
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