James Jay Edwards reviews Sator, a supernatural horror film written and directed by Jordan Graham and starring Michael Daniel and Gabriel Nicholson. (1091 Pictures)
Usually, it takes a village to make a movie. Several artists with different skill sets come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. And then, there are filmmakers like Jordan Graham, who almost single-handedly made Sator.
Sator is about two brothers, Adam and Pete (Gabriel Nicholson and Michael Daniel, respectively), who spend time at a family-owned cabin in the woods. To outsiders, it seems as if they are simply hunting, and they are. But they’re not hunting deer or bear. Adam and Pete are searching for a demon named Sator that their Grandmother (June Peterson) claims is responsible for their Grandfather’s mysterious death. It turns out, Sator has been watching—and tormenting—the family for generations. To find peace in their lives, the brothers are stuck between wanting to vanquish it and wanting to appease it.
(Sator, theatrical release poster, 1091 Pictures)
For Jordan Graham, Sator was both a labor of love and a highly personal passion project. Tackling pretty much every off-screen production job himself, Graham based his story on conversations with his real-life Grandmother who, much like the Grandmother in the movie, would hear voices and use automatic writing to communicate with the “demon.” The somewhat-biographical feature film took Graham about six years to complete, most of that time spent in post-production as the filmmaker worked other jobs to pay the bills and raise money.
So, it’s safe to say that what is onscreen in Sator is Jordan Graham’s vision, for better and for worse. As a horror movie, it’s going to be polarizing. It’s more atmospheric than actually frightening. It’s a dark and dreary movie, something that would be right at home in a double bill with something like Hereditary, Relic, or even the aptly titled The Dark and the Wicked. Long, stylish, drawn-out camera shots and an unsettling musical soundscape (all, of course, courtesy of Graham) just give the whole thing a genuinely creepy vibe. And truthfully, the lack of traditional jump scares is refreshing.
(Sator, 1091 Pictures)
While it is far from a documentary, Sator does have a sense of realism to it, and not just because of its unflinching depiction of Graham’s family’s real-life struggles with dementia and mental illness. Graham intersperses home video footage of Grandma Nani’s character throughout the movie, providing exposition about the demon through her automatic writing and conversations with her grandkids which she doesn’t remember a few days later. This fills in some of the gaps, but Nani’s fragile mental state leads the audience to question just how reliable her narrative is. After all, she considers Sator to be a protector of the family, but Adam and his siblings’ experiences do not support that thesis at all.
Of course, the movie leans into this unreliable narrator aspect, slowly and methodically providing pieces to a puzzle that is never ultimately solved. Sator is a super slow burn, revealing its secrets deliberately, and constantly forcing the viewer to wonder if it’s all going to pay off. Minor spoiler alert—it does. But not in a jaw-dropping, Sleepaway Camp kind of a way. Even when all is said and done, the audience wonders how much of what they’ve seen has been real and how much has been manufactured inside the minds of the characters. Sator is like a dream from which you wake up just a little before the end. There’s an ambiguity about it, but nothing that makes the experience ultimately unsatisfying.
(Sator, 1091 Pictures)
Sator will frustrate fright flick gatekeepers and pop-horror fans alike. There are no clear answers, only a strange sense of things that may come but never occur. Although it doesn’t quite stick the landing, it doesn’t leave the audience scratching its head either. It’s just a nightmare. Jordan Graham’s singular, familial nightmare.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.