You can often tell when a film is more than just a job for someone. There can be a big difference between the output of creators who have just turned up to do a job and get paid, and those that are truly passionate about the project that they’re working on. Sator is very much one of those projects where it feels as though it wasn’t just about making a movie, but where it meant something to the person behind it.
It’s not a hard stretch to say that Jordan Graham is the driving force behind Sator. He wrote the script based upon his family and their experiences, he shot it, directed it, produced it, composed the music, did the cinematography, and edited it. This is a film that not only wouldn’t exist without him, but wouldn’t be half as good if it wasn’t for the level of passion that kept him going through the seven years of post-production that went into its creation. Despite being an almost one-man production, bar the cast of course, it never feels this way, and is an incredibly beautiful and atmospheric work of art.
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The film follows Adam (Gabriel Nicholson), a man living alone in the forest with his dog as his only companion. We’re introduced to him as he goes about his day walking the woods, catching animals, and returning to his old cabin. If it weren’t for the few modern ammenties he had it would be easy to see him as someone living as a trapper centuries in the past, and the film feels like a modern take on Robert Eggers’ The Witch thanks to its lingering shots, beautiful scenery, and slow build of tension and horror.
After a while we learn that Adam isn’t completely alone, and he has family living pretty close by. There’s his brother Pete (Michael Daniel), sister Evie (Rachel Johnson), and grandmother Noni (June Peterson). It soon becomes clear that Adam isn’t quite living alone in the woods out of choice, but has been sent away by family for their own safety. It seems like the family has been plagued by tragedy, and that this may be linked to the voices being heard by their ailing grandmother, voices that she says belong to a real entity called Sator who wants to help and guide her; voices that were heard by Adam’s mother before her death, and now by him.
It becomes clear that the cameras set up around Adam’s cabin aren’t for tracking game, and that he seems to be keeping a watch for something he believes is out in the woods. Something that seems to keep him in a state of fear. Over the course of the film we begin to see more of what Adam thinks is out there, and learn why he’s so terrified.
It’s been revealed in the Director’s Statement given out by Graham that the idea of Sator came from his own family’s experience, that members of his family experienced auditory hallucinations over the course of their lives, and that this inspired him to write this film. Not only that, but the role of Noni is actually played by Graham’s grandmother, June Peterson. The grainier, black and white parts of the film that look like home movie segments are actually that, and Graham filmed his grandmother talking about Sator and her experiences with this entity. Learning that this film stemmed from his own family experiences explains why this film seemed to matter so much to Graham, and why he spent years of his life making it.
Sator is a film that doesn’t have any jump scares, that doesn’t rely on gore or visual horror to frighten its audience. It’s a film that instead relies on the quiet moments to build tension. The cold loneliness of the location, and the encroaching darkness of the forest play as big a part in the scares of this film as any of the things that seem to be stalking Adam.
If you like a film that doesn’t feel the need to try to justify everything, that uses the unknown and the bizarre to frighten you, then Sator is a film that you definitely want to see. Even if you’re not quite sure that this is the kind of film you could enjoy I’d still encourage you to watch it, even if just to marvel at how amazing it looks and sounds, and see what one person can do with a project that means something to them.