Sator is a steady and unnerving experience that plays on all of your senses, immersing in the story of a family haunted by a mysterious entity for generations
Sator is a fully immersive experience, and it’s a shame that most people won’t get to view it on the big screen. It’s definitely a horror film, one that takes inspirations from folk horror and gives off a Southern Gothic vibe with the way it frames its central location of a cabin out in the woods. But it’s also so much more – a singular, painstaking artistic vision, a master class in sound design, and perhaps even a dark form of therapy for its creator.
Much like The Blair Witch Project, Sator is more about creating a mood and an atmosphere rather than offering a generic linear narrative. Its scares come more from the power of suggestion, from the things that you don’t see, and its imagery is more haunting and melancholic than directly gory or terrifying. It even has a few moments of handheld camera work, presumably shot throughout the years that this film was in production.
The film’s focus is on Adam (Gabriel Nicholson), a silent, sunken-faced loner staying in a cabin deep in the woods with only his dog for company. Adam spends his days wandering the woods and checking on his wildlife cameras, constantly on the lookout for something, but we’re not sure what. At night he pores over the images taken by those cameras, studying every dark corner of the frame. There’s a creeping sense that something will pop up at any moment, and you’re not exactly looking forward to it.
Sator’s unnerving score – which is really more of a series of sonic sounds and textures – and creeping sense of dread envelops every scene. Whispers and breaths can be constantly heard all around and throughout the film. At night, candles flicker and faintly illuminate dark rooms and hallways. The foreboding forest outside of Adam’s cabin feels like an endless maze; a pitch-black abyss that has every intention of swallowing him whole. The woods haven’t looked quite as menacing since Robert Eggers’ The Witch.
We come to learn that Adam is in search of a being named Sator. Whatever Sator is isn’t exactly clear. Could it be a monster? A misunderstood creature? A spirit? Adam’s grandmother, Nani (June Peterson), believes it to be some kind of guardian. She, along with her own mother and grandmother, has been hearing Sator’s voice in her head her entire life. She even hears him now, deep in the trenches of dementia. In fact, Sator is almost the only thing Nani remembers at all. Her daughter – Adam’s mother – heard the same voice as well, and was evidently driven mad by it. As Adam sits in his dimly lit shanty, he listens to recordings of her telling stories about the mysterious entity. Eventually, those recordings become part of the soundscape too.
Sator is an impressive film by any measure, but it’s all the more astonishing for the fact that its creator, Jordan Graham, did everything on it himself aside from acting. That includes directing, writing, cinematography, music, set design; you name it, he did it. The film’s premise comes from Graham’s own life – June Peterson is his actual grandmother, and the stories you see her tell in the film are very real to her. In making this movie, perhaps Graham is looking for answers to a strange and frightening family phenomenon, one that’s followed them for generations.
Sator is now available to stream on your favorite VOD platform.