Directed by Jordan Graham
Mistik Jade Films
Wow, Sator... okay.
During these pandemic, ‘working from home because the rest of the exterior landscape has gone all The Omega Man’ times, I’ve been working from home while sometimes listening to a newish podcast that I quite like (regular readers will know how rare it is I listen to podcasts). It’s presented by Dr. Rebekah McKendry and Elric Kane and it’s a horror discussion show called Colours Of The Dark (well okay, in the US it’s 'Colors' but, honestly, don’t get me started)... presumably named after the Sergio Martino giallo. Anyway, I’ve been picking up a lot of fairly solid horror movie recommendations from there just recently and Sator was one of them.
It also blew me away and I wish someone would release a proper Blu Ray release of this thing, for sure. What’s even more mind blowing is the production of the film but... I’ll get to that in a little while. Let me give you a brief story tease first...
The story is mostly about two brothers... Adam played by Gabriel Nicholson and Pete played by Michael Daniel. Something has happened to their family, I think the mum has gone missing at some point. Their grandmother has been listening to a dark spirit/demon who visits her called Sator for years... it whispers to her and she has produced an awful lot of automatic writing channeling the spirit, much of which you’ll get to see and hear and which will, if you pay attention, tip you off to exactly where the movie is going. Adam is living in the woods in a cabin because his mother and, now also himself, could also feel and sometimes hear the lurking presence. He is trying to make contact with it in the forest... presumably to understand what’s going on in his life. Nothing is really spelled out and that’s cool, you can bring your own assumptions to fill in some of the blanks of the back stories but, also, as more is revealed, those assumptions will probably keep changing and, I have to say, this is quite a smart way to play it because it makes the lurking dread all the more effective as the film wears on.
Another way the director continually keeps the audience guessing... and engaged... is to use different stocks and aspect ratios (so black and white, 4:3, colour and widescreen) all mixed in together. As I started I was assigning different meanings or significance to different parts of footage... like this treatment means a flashback and this one means something else... but after a while I came to realise that this was not something where the mixture of presentations actually signifies something specific (like it does in, say, Wender’s Wings Of Desire)... at least, not that I could fathom, for sure.
And as the film slowly gives up its secrets, punctuated by the constant juxtapositions with readings of the grandmother’s automatic writings channeled from Sator, things start to get very creepy and very dangerous for some of the characters. There are, in just a couple of shots, strong elements of the supernatural so, I feel fully justified in reading this film as belonging to the ‘tricky to define’ horror genre... it’s not just a dramatic mystery, for sure (like, say, The Wicker Man). And because this isn’t a big budget studio picture, those supernatural manifestations really count when counterpointing the slow and deliberate pacing of the movie (like one of those little realisations which creep up on you mid way through a Tarkovsky movie and then suddenly resonate). For instance, without giving anything away here, there’s a scene where Adam is chasing after a woman in a forest and... something happens which really makes you sit up and pay attention in ways it wouldn’t in, say, I dunno... a Marvel movie. This director really knows what he’s doing to make a genuinely scary film with a really nice pay off at the end, it has to be said.
But here’s the thing. The director isn’t ‘just’ the director and the grandmother, who didn’t live long enough to see the final product, isn’t ‘just’ the grandmother.
For starters... Jordan Graham, didn’t just direct the movie. He wrote it, shot it, edited it, wrote the music(and possibly performed it too), built the log cabin and did a whole host of other things. It’s not quite a solo show (and he had some actors, obviously) but pretty close to it. Which is why it took seven years of his life from conception to screen. He was in it for the long haul. But it certainly doesn’t look like a low budget, Jerry built production for sure. This looks like this had way more than just this very small crew behind it. And not only that...
June Peterson, who plays the grandmother suffering from Alzheimer's in the film... really is the director’s grandmother who was suffering from Alzheimer's. And all the automatic writings from Sator to her were the real automatic writings she herself received from ‘Sator’ in real life when she was messing about with a Ouija board in 1968 and which led to her being committed to a psychiatric hospital. So as far as the ‘idea’ of Sator watching over her as presented in the movie... that’s all culled from her real life experiences and, I think Graham has gone on record as saying that Sator wasn’t even part of the plot of the movie at the start. I guess he got to know his granny pretty well as the film was made and there’s even some footage in the movie which is from years ago and includes his real life grandfather. Maybe that’s why he uses a mix of stocks during the course of the film... to better seamlessly blend the real life footage with the scary fiction.
And that’s about all I’ve got to say about Sator other than... it’s an incredibly well put together horror movie which, well, I’m holding out for an extras loaded Blu Ray at some point but I will definitely want to be revisiting this one again. Fans of horror films who are not just after violence (although there is some heavy violence at the end and, again, all I will say is that was a real beard one of the actors had and the actor did what he did with it for real) and who are looking for a more atmospheric, lurking dread and imminent danger kind of vibe should get a good fix of it from Sator. The final shot of the movie is great too and I’m really pleased I gave this one a go. It should definitely place highly on anyone’s top 100 horror films list, for sure.