Color, 2019, 85 mins 57 secs.
Directed by Jordan Graham
Starring Michael Daniel, Rachel Johnson, Aurora Lowe, Gabriel Nicholson, June Peterson, Wendy Taylor
Cauldron Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Umbrealla (DVD) (Australia R4 PAL), Lightbulb (DVD) (UK R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
"Sator is like a human being that lives around here somewhere. Somebody who manages to get into my brain and talk to me. Knew everybody, what they were saying and doing." That's how a strangely tranquil grandmother (Peterson) describes the entity that's been hanging around her family and now seems to be infiltrating the lives of her grandsons, Adam (Nicholson) and Pete (Daniel). Occurrences like the disappearance and presumed death of the men's mother, spousal abandonment, the sudden abduction of dogs, and grandma's creepy Sator-centric automatic writing are gradually given context with the presence of family audio cassettes about this supernatural presence. Meanwhile sister Deborah (Lowe) serves as the grandmother's caretaker and tries to hold things together, all while Adam's explorations of the Sator lore and the voices he starts to here pull him closer to a horrible truth.
A quiet but unnerving sensory experience, Sator is pretty much the opposite of slam-bang horror as it uses its dark forest setting, an insanely manipulative sound mix, and unexpected bursts of nightmare imagery (like Sator-ites wearing animal skulls or the sudden appearance of a bound character against a tree) to keep you enveloped in its slippery narrative. You definitely have to give over some trust that things will pay off as the film doesn't play all of its cards for quite a while, with the story snapping together via creepy color widescreen sections alternating with 4x3 black-and-white flashbacks and interviews. This isn't the kind of film you can watch casually on a laptop or your phone; it demands to be seen in a dark room with your undivided attention, preferably with the sound cranked up. Anyone who enjoyed films like The Ritual and The Blackcoat's Daughter should find it especially worthwhile, not to mention devotees of the folk horror craze in general; it also frequently feels similar in tone to those creepy BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas with its sparse dialogue and focus on mood over incident. The fact that this was virtually a one-person operation behind the scenes by Jordan Graham makes it even more impressive, using his own family history (including shooting at his grandmother's real house) to give it that extra creepy touch of believability.
Picked up by Yellow Veil Pictures in the U.S. following a handful of festival screenings (including Fantasia), Sator turned up aboard in Australia and the U.K. on DVD as well as American streaming before eventually getting its Blu-ray debut from Cauldron Films in 2002. Shot in a variety of aspect ratios and formats, the film looks excellent here with fine detail even in the darkest scenes while also highlighting the careful modulation of natural lighting even in some indoor scenes. The 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA English tracks (with optional English SDH subtitles) are both great quality, with the 5.1 in particular messing with you thanks to some wild directional effects.
Graham turns up for a very thorough and interesting audio commentary largely focusing on the technical nuts and bolts of how he pulled it all off (including the downside of having your actors wear the same costume every day), balanced with stories about how he motivated his actors and drew extensively on his family including grandmother's own automatic writing. In one particularly potent moment, he even shares the last voicemail he received from his grandmother. Also included are a quick POV behind-the-scenes segment (1m48s) and the original trailer, while the initial pressing is a 1,000-unit limited slipcase edition featuring a folded mini-poster
Reviewed on July 23, 2022.