Jordan Graham’s Sator is a slow burn experimental horror, which wilfully toys with your expectations of the genre. Taking clear inspiration from low-budget powerhouses such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal activity, Sator helps set itself apart with its unique sense of plotting and intense use of darkness, presenting itself as a movie experience like no other. At times it can be unapologetically obscure, leaving much for the audience to decipher whilst still offering up moments of genuine horror with its anxiety inducing scares. However, it’s occasional reliance on random quick cuts and dull encounters that inevitably lead to nothing, stop it short from being a masterclass of atmospheric horror.
Whilst modern horrors tend to lean heavily into gore and over the top set pieces, Sator strips back these tendencies in favour of a more intimate setting, focusing on a families struggle with the titular ‘Sator’, an occult menace which has plagued them for 3 generations, and the lasting impacts it can have on a persons mental health. Gabriel Nicholson plays our leading man, Adam, a quiet yet grizzled hunter who spends most of the movie hunting for ‘deer’. It’s clear from the outset that he is troubled by his family’s dark past and the events surrounding his mother’s bizarre death, and now decides to live secluded out in the middle of nowhere in an old cabin with his dog.
It soon becomes apparent that he’s not alone in the woods when his cabin becomes the focal point for a group of skull wearing occultists who like to make their presence known through a variety of randomly placed jump cuts, some drastically more effective than other’s. These hulking figures plague Adam throughout, taunting his beliefs and force him to question his own sanity. It’s worth mentioning that the design for the occultists is outstanding, each member is draped in boundless amounts of fur and bone, resembling something more akin to a wildling from Game of Thrones.
Graham cranks up the tension through some creative sound design and great use of darkness when Adam wakes in the middle of the night to the sound of a break in. He grabs his rifle and bursts into the room to find his front door wide open but no one in sight. We see nothing but darkness coming from the woods but it’s clear Adam can see something. It’s intense and plays on our fears of the unknown, harkening back to old adage of what you don’t see is scarier than what you can see and the film benefits all the more for it.
Adams siblings occasionally drop by to check in on him, but this is where the movie falters. These encounters are random throughout the film and rarely contain any useful information for the characters or the plot. At times some of the dialogue was so muffled and distorted that I had to rewatch certain scenes just to make out what the characters were saying. However, it is worth pointing out that Sator was predominantly a one man show with Director Jordan Graham taking on all responsibilities behind the scenes, even going as far building Adams Cabin himself.
Visually, Sator is a feast for the eyes. Graham concocts a mixture of home footage, black and white low resolution shots and HD cinematic’s to help differentiate different time periods in the story and gives the film an added sense of realise. Its clear that a lot of thought went into the use of each style, all equally bringing something new to its scenes and finding creative ways to unsettle the audience. It’s the use of home footage for me which created some of the movies most uncomfortable scenes to watch, Adam’s grandma’s retelling of her experiences with Sator is presented through various clips filmed in their home. We watch as this old lady struggles in her battle with dementia as she tries her best to recollect the events, yet it’s in her monotonous ramblings where the true damage of Sator’s presence can be felt.
Overall, Sator is an intriguing watch and offers up plenty of great atmospheric scares but fans of more straightforward jump scare horror may come out of it feeling slightly deflated due to the obscurity of its narrative which warrants multiple viewings and its clear niche appeal.
Sator is out on Digital Download now and DVD from 22nd February.
Horror | USA, 2019 | 15 | 22nd February 2021 (UK DVD) Digital (Out Now) | Lightbulb Film Distribution | Dir.Jordan Graham | Michael Daniel, Rachel Johnson, Aurora Lowe, Gabriel Nicholson, June Peterson,