Sator – Review

Written & Directed by Jordan Gh

USA/2021/85mins

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Secrets, anxieties and squabbles, the Sator watches over as a family reaches dysfunctional heights amidst the wilderness. Yet, there’s an allure to the creature, to the darkness it slinks within. In an atmospheric and creative venture, Jordan Graham creates a contemporary horror which lays its foundations from spiritual ancestors, while refusing to bow to modern tropes and expectations. Sator is on the hunt, and it recognises that patience is a virtue, one which will redeem it from most sins cast.

There’s a grimy undertone to the film’s premise, similar to that of The Babadook, where the supernatural entity is just as tangible a threat as the struggles of isolation and emotional trauma. Graham’s vision for the film is one concerning solitude, dysfunctional relationships, and intense paranoia – all conveyed equally and meticulously across the film. Centering around Adam and his family, the clasutrophobic setting enhances all of the desired effects Graham strives for as Sator emerges as a slow, quiet burner. Carried by Michael Daniel as protagonist Pete, much of the film is told not through dialogue but audio clues, visuals and flashbacks and narration by the late June Peterson, who turns in the film’s best performance. 

Haste is not in Sator’s dictionary, to the film’s credit, but equally its detriment. Rejecting the perverse nature of contemporary horrors which squanders suspense, Graham’s direction builds a little too much for the inevitable pay-off. The gradual decline of sanity and build-up of just what the Sator is and the violent pay-off all serve a purpose, but the audience has likely slipped their attention before Graham attempts to snap it back around.

Much of the film’s shortfalls come at the hands of unchecked ambition. Writer and director Jordan Graham also produces the film and is Sator’s composer and cinematographer – a valiant goal and testament to independent filmmaking, but undiluted the film would have benefitted from an additional pair of eyes to dissect the intimacies and broaden the climax to feel less condensed and match the tone of the preceding half. Graham’s direction of the cast though works well, with Daniel, Peterson and Rachel Johnston turning in a patient performance which ramps up the dread when required, though other character aspects come across as a little too formulaic for a film looking to stretch its legs outside of the predictable.

Sound is a core component of any horror, and when abused it leads to schlocky messes which telegraph scares and drama – cheapening the film. Quite the reverse, silent as a hunter, Sator hypnotically utilises sound design. Toying with silence to unnerve, and introducing just enough to make the audience question reality as minor noises could also be coming from their homes. Graham toys with conceptual nightmares, blurring the line beyond the visual colour tones as the audio dips and repeats itself as a reinforcer with Peterson’s pre-recorded audio serving both a narrative and mood guidance. From gnarls and chilling whistles, the sound design matches Graham’s cinematography which comes two-fold.

One, monochromatic and a touch on the auteur and anticipated from a horror production, both aspect ratio and framing alter in these sequences, which add just a little too much confusion to the stories principal flow. Another, earthen and natural, and somehow more terrifying. Straying into the found-footage genre in design, the woodland shots and eventual chase sequences build not only the film’s level of dread but stitch together purposeful shots which twist as the film comes back to these ‘Deer Cam’ stills to reveal the horror has been there all along among the trees.

Balancing the existential dread of emotional turmoil with the visual aesthetics of a tried and tested horror, Sator has the trimmings of an independent horror which understands the medium. Its pacing, dependant on audiences, will enthral or divide as gradual embers burn away to a quick eruption, rather than a blaze of glory. For those seeking an intimate psychological horror, Sator delivers on the traditional monster front and chills, while also offering heartbreaking family drama, but only for those dedicated to the hunt.

Sator is available on Digital Download from February 15th & DVD from February 22nd and can be pre-ordered on iTunes here

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