A bold, brave, and personal exploration of familial trauma, Jordan Graham’s atmospheric and chilling film “Sator” is something special.
We all have our own opinion of what we think a family is: certainly in how they function as a unit, but also in how they present themselves to everyone else in the outside world.
It goes without saying that some of us are more fortunate than others. Not everyone has to hide what their family does behind those closed doors. Do you bury the trauma of all the dreadful moments you shared together, or are you able to accept the reality of your familial history?
After nearly six years in production, writer-director Jordan Graham has finally released Sator, a sadistic blend of biographical and fictionalized stories about mental health. It was created to process the very intimate details of his family that others would never publicly disclose about theirs. For him, this means exploring his grandmother’s real experience with, what she believes to be, an unknown entity.
Shrouded with curious mythology and a lean, supernatural twist, “Sator” emerges from the hollow shadows of the forest.
Slow, and yet unquestionably elegant, Graham meticulously strings the viewer along through an unrelenting day/night cycle.
Adam (Gabe Nicholson) is secluded in the woods of California by himself; that is, until we learn that he does, indeed, have some family which visit with him occasionally. His siblings, Pete (Michael Daniel) and Evie (Rachel Johnson), have presumably distanced themselves and Adam from Nani (June Peterson).
Nani believes that a mysterious entity, named Sator, has come to visit her nightly for the better part of her whole life. Her talk of Sator negatively affects Adam so much that her delusions (or rather, communications) begin to forge real fear and paranoia. Sure, Adam primarily hunts and, indeed, lives a very minimalistic lifestyle. But the deer cams he has spread out over his property aren’t for tracking any known animal.
Right from the start, the atmosphere Graham has created pierces the mind of the viewer with the jagged edge of a dull blade; it’s uncomfortable, and downright disturbing.
Between the frame composition, featuring an abundance of wide-angle shots deep in the desolate forest, to the masterful sound mixing of scintillating whispers infecting every square inch of dead air, Sator can be unfathomable at times.
The constant aspect ratio changes leave plenty of room for speculation as to what might be happening to the family. The VHS effect is not only creepy, but it evokes the feeling of watching a long-forgotten family home video. They’re scattered throughout the film’s 85-minute run time, seamlessly positioned to break immersion and give the viewer a moment to exhale. Yet, this footage has the adverse effect: instilling a lasting sense of dread and disorientation.
The haunting nature of the film is compounded when you consider that June Peterson, Graham’s actual grandmother, is playing a fictionalized version of herself.
In the culmination of events in the third act, the script’s inconsistencies surface – revealing that not even Graham is quite sure of the end.
No one is interested in defining what Sator is and isn’t – certainly not Graham. This may have been done purposefully, but it also feels slightly disheveled and inconclusive. Still, the entity’s unearthly presence lingers in the background long after the credits.
Enormous credit has to be given to the entire cast and crew for incredible work, especially Graham, who not only scored, shot, and edited the film, but took a risk in revealing intimate information about his family.
Sator, despite the apparent themes of intense horror and unpleasantries, is so much more personal than you may be led to believe watching the trailer.
You won’t want to miss out on this unique and unforgettable experience.