Sator Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Yellow Veil Pictures
Written and directed by Jordan Graham
2019, 85 minutes, Not Rated
Released on February 9th, 2021
Gabe Nicholson as Adam
Michael Daniel as Pete
Aurora Lowe as Deborah
Rachel Johnson as Evie
June “Nani” Peterson as Herself
James W. Peterson as Himself
Wendy Taylor as Mother
Though I am a child of the ‘80s at my core, I’ve always had an eye for the artsier and more cinematic side of horror. The imagery you can evoke when your palette includes blood and guts is much more lurid and affecting. It’s a side of the genre that not every fan appreciates because films like Sator are challenging. They ask you to be patient and break from the mold of spoon-fed narrative. If you can do that, though, the result is often an experience that burns itself onto your lizard brain.
Deep in an isolated forest that looks straight out of a forbidden fairy tale, a nameless family is battling for their survival with an ancient being named Sator. The family’s history is dominated by tales of Sator. Family matriarch, Nani (June Peterson), is suffering from extreme dementia. She can’t remember her own family anymore, but she knows all about Sator ever since she summoned through her automatic writing years before. This family is broken, and everyone has an axe to grind. Adam seems determined to find the truth about Sator, but that may be a door that’s best left closed. Opening the family history and the truth about the force that’s guided them will have unthinkable consequences.
Sator is almost easy to dismiss on the surface as another style versus substance, high-art horror flick where the narrative is a bit of a slog to decipher. While that’s not an incorrect assessment, Sator is also straight-up goddamn gorgeous and single-minded of purpose. Writer-director Jordan Graham does literally everything on this film, and his vision shines through clear and strong. The cinematography uses some beautifully framed shots of that moment right before full darkness to set up some cosmic horror aspects that’ll raise more questions than you’re likely to get answers for.
You will have to put in work to fully appreciate Sator; it’s a particularly challenging film at times. You’d be blind, however, to miss the revelation of dedication and skill that is Jordan Graham. The man does everything but catering here, and his artistry and raw talent are inarguable. The clarity of the storytelling needs work, but Sator is something of an art film in execution if not intention. He evokes a ludicrous creep factor that utilizes the simplicity of nighttime tracking shots and folk horror imagery to full effect while peppering the film with little details like the handwritten credits that represent the automatic writing. I appreciate flair like that.
It’s a movie that’s in the same family as films like It Comes at Night, The Witch, and The Lighthouse – a technical accomplishment that isn’t always easy but is undeniably well-crafted and well-loved. It’s also heavy with shocking and jarring moments that always catch you off guard without being clichéd jump scares. The finish is straight brutal and unapologetic as it should have been. Is Sator ultimately folk horror, family madness drama, or insidious alien terror? That’s up to you to decide. You can make a case for each one, so maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
One thing is for sure, though – Sator tears this family apart. That frustrating lack of answers won’t tell you exactly what it is, but you’ll get enough deer-headed acolytes, overlapping chants, cryptic writings, hints of the stars, and interfamilial murder that you’ll walk away sufficiently affected by Sator (and waiting in anticipation for Jordan Graham’s next work).
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