Writer and Director: Jordan Graham
Starring: Gabriel Nicholson, June Peterson, Aurora Lowe, Rachel Johnson, Michael Daniel
I feel distracted down here. I forget to look up sometimes.
Sator is a guardian, or so Nani says. As Nani shares some of her memories to her grandchildren through her spouts of dementia, the grandchildren begin the find out more about their mother and their family history. This leads them to make hard decisions, like leaving their brother Adam (Gabriel Nicholson) in a solitary cabin in the wooded middle of nowhere. As Adam explores the world around him, he begins to uncover dark secrets.
Sator is a hard film to describe (I did my very best in the paragraph above). It’s scattered around in various scenes, sometimes a black and white, letterboxed home video view of Nani telling her stories; sometimes we see Adam exploring the woods and then going back to the cabin to listen to his grandma’s creepy tapes; but the chronological thread is a bit scattered.
Not that it’s all exactly a weakness of the movie. Sator is definitely a film that begs multiple viewings. Perhaps the first viewing will be your most confusing experience; I anticipate subsequent viewings allow you to take what you know and draw out the clues. It seems very much like writer and director Jordan Graham has a carefully crafted world that he is slowly revealing to the viewer, but it’s definitely not all apparent in one viewing.
As mentioned before, Sator seems to be a spirit who guides certain members of the family toward some goal, most notably through “automatic writings” from Nani. The spirit of Sator is an interesting take on family heritage, and the chats of grandchildren with their Nani suffering from dementia has a few touches of commentary on care for our elderly family members.
Along with Sator, there’s a super-creepy group of cultists buried deep in the woods near Adam. One of my favorite aspects is how much dread Graham builds around this cult and how he utilizes very basic elements to do this. He takes some of our most primal fears — darkness, isolation, the gales of wind through dark forests, barren and snowy landscapes — and uses them to the film’s slowly darkening advantage.
I think my biggest question is how Sator and the cult are connected. This is why I feel the film requires multiple viewings, but I’m not sure how many viewers have the patience for multiple go-throughs of the movie.
Sator uses stripped-back, bare-bones horror elements very effectively and builds a deep world and story that keeps you guessing. The drawback is that you’re still guessing after the credits start to roll.