SATOR is a dreadful, ominous slow burn film that will turn many viewers away and leave them feeling lost or even wasteful of the hour and a half they've put into the movie. It's writer and director Jordan Graham went the more challenging route of psychological breakdown over jumpscares; so if you're looking for another Conjuring clone, continue your search elsewhere. However, if you are willing to take the deep dive into the empty, confused, and quietly maddening cult of SATOR, I think you will be more pleasantly surprised and mentally shaken than any jumpscare movie could leave you. Sator is subtly powerful yet lowkey in its delivery, and pretty much from the get-go, it will have you questioning what's real and what's not and is this mysterious Sator spirit an actual entity, or the product of a psychological collapse. Honestly, I'm not even entirely sure Graham wants the answer to be clear by the time the credits roll; it's only in post-movie research did I uncover the chilling and impactful personal story of Graham and his family that clearly had such a magnificent role in the writing and production of SATOR. It suddenly takes the movie and makes it something so much more; it's no longer a piece of entertainment, but a physical piece of Jordan Graham and his family's life. So if you're willing to let the films bleak atmosphere and psychological torture play with your head and you're okay with not seeing any cgi ghosts in mirrors, I'd love to invite you to take this journey because it's more unsettling than a lot of other horror films you can rent these days.
Normally when writing these reviews, I like to include a pretty decent synopsis of the story that sometimes gets a little more detailed than intended, however for one of the first times, I'm going to elect not going as in-depth into the plot of Sator. While the film is one of the most barebones films I've seen in recent years (think Hagazussa or The Witch), there's more to it - delivered in such a subtle way - than in some other high-profile films we see from Hollywood. So I'll allow m recap to be brief: Sator follows the plagued story of a family that live in the middle of an isolated forest who are being watched over by a presence/entity known only as Sator. Sator, who the family believe to be somewhat of a supernatural entity, speaks to Nani (played by June Peterson, the directors own grandmother of whom has a family history with mental illness) and she writes down what he tells her, even if it means nothing to her. And on both video and audio, Noni can be heard preaching the importance of accepting Sator into your life and his watch over you. This is reflected upon her grandson Pete (Michael Daniel) who lives in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, where he listens to her recordings each night. The presence of Sator remains with Pete always, even if its subtle in the back of his head, and by the end of the film, it's hard to even tell if Sator is an actual entity of just the result of some sad mental illness; but none of that matters: all that matters is that Sator is real to both Pete and his grandmother, and to his other siblings as well, even if it's unwarranted through the actions of their brother. What kind of hold does Sator have over the family, and what is the result of his presence in the cold, quiet forest on the family? Find out in... SATOR.
Whether you walk away from this movie believing Sator is an actual entity or the conditioned response to a mental illness that plagues generations of the family, one thing will be certain: the journey to meeting Sator is a long, slow, suspenseful one that is in no rush to expose its secrets to you. And once it does, the feeling in your stomach will finally be lifted as things at least somewhat feel like they've come full circle. The film does feel like it has a bit of an open ending, making it open to your own interpretation - although I feel like most audiences will walk away from this movie with at least somewhat of a relative consensus on what exactly went down. And I love this film for that; because the film doesn't rely on spooks to hold you, the unsettling feeling that sits with you for the majority of the film remains after the credits roll and Nani gives her final recounting of Sator on screen. Michael Daniel - the actor being Pete - pretty much carries 90% of the film as he navigates his uncomfortable and eerie corner of the woods, and his pretty much silent performance will take you to two very different ends of the personality spectrum which was definitely not expected. I think part of what makes this film so unsettling throughout is Daniel's facial expressions and empty eyes as the movie progresses; honestly, his stare speaks more than words can in those moments. And when Nani makes any sort of appearance - no matter if its audio, video, or in person - you'll find your breathing paused as you wait on her every word. Peterson brings this chilling character to life and absolutely slays it.
Jordan Graham absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one, and I can only hope that he can get the recognition and viewership he deserves for it; it's clear he literally poured himself into this film, tying in his personal family background, to writing, producing, scoring, editing and shooting this film. While the vastness of the desolate forest can feel empty, there is so, so much to be told by the members of this family. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.