26th Jul2019

Fantasia 2019: ‘Sator’ Review

by Alain Elliott

Stars: Michael Daniel, Rachel Johnson, Aurora Lowe, Gabe Nicholson, June Peterson, Wendy Taylor | Written and Directed by Jordan Graham

sator-poster

In very basic terms, Sator could be described as either a ‘cabin in the woods’-style horror movie or even a ghost story but both of these short sub genre descriptions would be pretty far off the mark and give you no idea about what the movie actually is. Even blending those two styles together doesn’t detail what Sator is. So what exactly is it then?

It does involve an individual that has isolated himself from the world and yes he lives in a cabin in the woods. This man, Adam, has a grandmother who for her whole life has listened to a spirit named Sator. This spirit is now entering Adam’s life in different ways and seems to be becoming malevolent and very much upsetting his life.

There’s some really interesting things about Sator before I even talk about what I liked about the movie. Firstly, it was almost entirely made by one guy – Jordan Graham. Graham is writer, director, producer, editor, composer, cinematography, costume designer and much more. It’s an unbelievable effort and one that took him five years to complete. The story is also based on his own families experiences, which seems even crazier. Graham is clearly a very talented film-maker.

Sator is a movie with little dialogue. This might be a choice from the director and creator because of the inexperienced cast, and if so it’s a good choice because the inexperience doesn’t really show. But the lack of dialogue also creates this eerie atmosphere when the soft but well made score and the noise of the woodland surroundings are the only things in place.

That woodland surround is used to almost perfection. The director uses it in a number of ways, from the picturesque mountains in the background to the mist-filled woods to the darkness the forest and then on to the beautiful snow covered land – the cinematography is fantastic.

There’s some really awesome use of light in Sator. Often when horror movies use darkness it can be annoying. I’ve often squinted closely at the screen because I had no idea what was going on or became annoyed when one lit match lights a room but the dark and light here are used to create maximum scares. Torch light in the woods gives the viewer focus on one thing, only to surprise when the character is panicked. Then some scenes in the cabin (which come across nicely small and almost claustrophobic) are perfectly lit by a handful of candles, flickering near the main character as people walk past. Finally, fire is used in a more horrifying way but also brilliantly exploding from the darkness. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the use of light in darkness work so well. This makes the woods extremely scary.

I’m not sure if anybody remembers the horror sub genre titled ‘mumblegore’ (that is apparently still going says Wikipedia). It contained movies such as The House of the Devil, Frozen and The Battery and despite having little dialogue, Sator feels like it belongs in the list of films in this category. It’s an interesting take on a horror movie and manages plenty of originality while including with some truly horrific and violent moments which you almost don’t expect to happen. My only complaint is that it wasn’t the easiest of movies to understand. I’m not going to lie and say I complete understood it all but I’d happily watch it all again to check what I missed.

With Sator Jordan Graham has almost single-handedly created one of the most intriguing horror movies of the year.

**** 4/5

Sator screened on Sunday July 21st as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

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