February 5, 2021 Sator (Movie Review)
The first thing one ought to know about Sator, the latest offering in the recently popular trend of slow burn, art house Horror, is that it is a passion project of Jordan Graham. Set for release digitally on February 9, 2021 through 1091 Pictures, Sator spent six years in post-production because Graham did everything himself – directing, producing writing, editing, music, and probably more. This level of commitment to one’s own vision has to be respected, but potential viewers will be happy to know that Sator was well worth the wait.
The plot of Sator is a bit difficult to convey. Like many art house films, there is a lot of stream-of-consciousness narrative that seems to weave in and out and around the main idea of the story, which itself always remains clear. Essentially, there are 2 main character arcs. One is a man approaching middle age named Adam (Gabe Nicholson). Adam has willingly isolated himself from the world and lives alone in a remote cabin in the woods. The other is an elderly woman, Adam’s grandmother, named Nani. What’s interesting about her is that she seems to be a forced, if not entirely unwilling, medium for a spirit of some sort that she calls her ‘guardian spirit’.
Nani can enter a trance-like state and write when possessed by her guardian spirit. These writings can be cryptic or rambling, but Nani insists the spirit is helping her be a better person. She certainly seems to believe it; she smiles radiantly when talking about the spirit and genuinely enjoys sharing information about her experience, which is not typical of Horror characters of similar makeup. Additionally, this gift or curse seems to be hereditary, as Nani’s daughter, Pete’s mother, is spoken of as if she was possessed and had violent episodes.
As for Adam, his loneliness and penchant for paranoia may be a blessing in disguise, as he begins to notice changes in his grandmother despite her jovial attitude toward the mysterious spirit. The narrative of Sator is told through Pete’s increasing, or perhaps decreasing clarity about the woods and the spirits therein. Atmospheric tension is this film’s forte, and it executes it very well. Technically this is a low budget film, but it doesn’t need much with Graham’s talent with the camera and music. In other indie films, sometimes the lack of budget is painfully obvious, depending on what the film is trying to do, but here it may work as an advantage. The plot feels a bit closer and more intimate to the audience than many others, and the minimalist approach and dark forest ambiance serve it well.
Adam also has a brother, Pete (Michael Daniel), who comes to visit him occasionally. He too is concerned about the history of mental problems in the family and is worried about his brother. The siblings are clearly close and care for each other despite neither of them being the most talkative of men. At one point, Pete asks Adam if he has started hearing things; Adam answers truthfully and it feels like a moment between the brothers where one learns they have a deadly disease. This is just one example of Sator being able to have heavy impact with seemingly little to work with.
Sator’s unconventional storytelling and art house label will undoubtedly give potential viewers pause, but those folks shouldn’t let their preconceived notions stop them here. Sator is not as out there as one might think, and is easier to follow than a film like 2019’s The Lighthouse. The narrative meanders but only so far as the polarity of the story allows, no more. It’s a delicate balance that Graham impressively manages to hold. Yes, this film requires the viewer to pay attention, but that doesn’t make it inaccessible.
While not perfect, Sator is a finely polished finished product that took years to get where Graham wanted it to be. His work paid off well, as this film delivers what it wants to. All it asks of the viewers is their attention, not their puzzle-solving skills. Sator has a lot of positives – great atmosphere, creepy and effective lore, striking visuals at the right times, and more, and is certainly worth any Horror fan’s time. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Sator 4 out of 5 stars.