Living alone deep among the tall trees and the dark and deafening foliage around him, a tragic past involving the disappearance of his mother haunts the very core of Adam’s broken spirit as he wanders the forest he grew up in and that has also been an afflicting mystifying presence of family lore. His grandmother, Nani, for a long time has been commenting being the receptor of a dark forest entity named Sator who internally speaks to her and has her write down unintelligible messages; Sator’s words have also whispered in Adam’s ears as well as his vanished mother’s. Adam ceaselessly searches the clues daily, even setting up a night vision deer cam and ringing out into the woods with a homemade calling flute. As Adam and his family struggle to rebuild their once strong bond, Sator emerges with an intent to sever what’s left of the tattered strings of family ties, bearing down on the isolated Adam in attempt to insidiously claim more of his kindred for the forest.
Rich in personal family indispositions that trickle down to unravel everything dear, Jordan Graham’s sophomore supernatural film of a sinister spirt, “Sator,” is much better than my attempt at an alliterated sentence structure. The 2019 film, hailing out of California, with the forest sequences from Yosemite National Park, is a blend of pristine splendor as it is a nocturnal nightmare in an allegory of mental illness and the distortion of family because of the effects. For the “Specter” director and screenwriter, particulars of “Sator” intertwine the authenticity of the filmmaker’s ancestry with the ominous unknowns of horror in a DIY production that looks bigger and grander in worth than in actuality. Graham’s production banner, Mistik Jade Films, and in association with Yellow Veil Pictures, the company behind the colorful demonically intrusive thriller, “Luz,” funds the film with Jordan Graham serving as executive producer alongside Jennifer Graham and Elias Adamopoulous.
“Sator’s” a family and friends affair that opens with Gabriel Nicholson silently, patiently, and near aimlessly wandering through the woods as Adam walking alongside his mutt and carrying a hunting rifle. Jordan Graham’s childhood friend since early teens, Nicholson fills adequately the role’s achy privation and does so without saying so much as a paragraph in the full 85 minute runtime. While “Sator” snuggles up to Adam’s incessant need to check deer cams and conduct daily searches around every rock, tree, and bush, the character isn’t the nucleus essential to Sator’s generational influences that spread like a cancer over Adam’s lineage and he’s where the buck stops. Instead, Jordan Graham’s grandmother, June Peterson aka Nani, bears unwittingly and unimpressed brunt of the actor’s burden to perform due to Peterson’s longtime battle with dementia. Her scenes are authentic and natural in discourse with the recollective ramblings of Graham’s family’s resident topical presence – Sator. Peterson holds all the cards for her grandson’s inspiration from the very name of the entity that speaks to her to the automatic writings set in motion during a stint of Sator’s sometimes hours upon hours of inner ear verbal instructions. Graham doesn’t exploit his grandmother, but rather tells her story in a way dementia allows her not to with recording her experience, with the papers of her automatic writings, and with extending Sator into a metaphor for family strife and mental illness. Rarely are Nicholson and Peterson on screen together, but they come in proxy of one another through the supporting characters played by Michael Daniel as Adam’s troublesome brother, Pete, Rachel Johnson as an unusual relative, Evie, and Wendy Taylor as the bygone mother only remembered in flashbacks and Adam’s documentary memories.
There are movies out in cinema land released for the sole purpose of dishing out entertainment complete with exorbitant special effects and a high profile cast surely to make good on bank statement returns and then there are some with a more somber, but well-crafted, personal story. “Sator” is the very epitome of that latter category as director Jordan Graham’s profoundly personal story that is tailored to his specifications without the temptation of commercial success. With dividends on the backburner, “Sator’s” arthouse quality stamps a staid dread of distressing imagery and stillness emblematic from an imprinted personal experience that has been dissected and dispersed to give the entity known as Sator a fluid corporeal form. What also scores high marks is the ideology of Sator created by, or perhaps more accurately channeled through, June Peterson, forming the breadth of life out of an unseen concept glamourized with unimaginable abilities and attributes that can foraged out of Paganism or Satanic scriptures and have nature be the embodiment of its unholy divinity. Graham not only unnerves you as passenger looking into eerie family history with “Sator’s” transmissions at the narrative core, but also serenades with serrating stridency in his audio and visual compositions that includes some fantastic gore and torching. The one thing to point out that “Sator” falls short on is understanding the next jump in the narrative as Graham leaves unclear wide gaps unexplained with only a bit of passive dialogue to gnaw on to get caught up. In a story that’s already subversive on the plainspoken, “Sator” could use some straight talk to get more inside the dissonance of the entity’s inimical ways.
Let “Sator” whisper into your ear on an Umbrella Entertainment home DVD release. The region 4 DVD comes standard in a NTSC format, like of the Australian distributor’s releases do, and is presented in a widescreen, 2:35:1 aspect ratio. Image quality is paramount for a downbeat psychological horror set inside the absence of noise of a pin drop forest and the release delivers a stunning transfer with elaborating details in the forest setting. Perhaps slightly on the darker on the scale, the engulfing blackness of the cabin, the woods, and Nani’s home add to the surrounding cryptic presence notwithstanding the absence of a body to call the villain. The darker shadows Graham creates sees better contrast in dreamlike sequences with the deep blue sky with a moon over head, the silhouette of the trees, and Adam standing small against the tall trees in his white skivvies, creating stark poetry in the image alone. Graham also incorporates a documentary style, through the mind’s eye of Adam, to replay events like flashbacks that set the stage for the present. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is works inline with the rubato score that creates a pulls and tugs on the emotions. The dialogue isn’t so lucky as actors can only be heard mumbling the lines with the exception of Nani with her natural, genuine talk. Like many of the Umbrella DVD releases, there are no bonus features includes and there are also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Sator” thrives as holistic horror with the insurmountable belief that there are far worse things out in the world than mental deterioration that spur random acts of equivocality.
Own Sator on DVD from Umbrealla Entertainment (Region 4)