Film Review

Jordan Graham’s Sator

I love when a horror film hits all the right notes in the aesthetics department of what resonates with me, so listen up if you are into: elemental, esoteric folk horror, lyrical, almost Malick level dialogue and character interaction, eerily hazy home video footage, misty, rugged wilderness cinematography, atmosphere so think you could cut it with an antler knife, demonic pagan deities that live unseen in the natural world and can be summoned by unwitting, weak minded human beings and more. Jordan Graham’s Sator is a stunning, immersive, spectacularly terrifying and absolutely visually gorgeous folk horror that cuts right to the heart of what genuinely freaks me out in the genre: atmosphere, the unknown, being alone, dark forces outside our narrow scope of belief and knowledge and how these forces corrupt, reshape and pervert the human condition to disturbing new heights. The film sees one man (Michael Daniel) alone far out in the remote California wilderness, living in a ramshackle cabin and setting out each day into the territory looking for… something. He has introspective flashbacks to a mother (Wendy Taylor) who went missing years before, a sister (Aurora Lowe) who was on the verge of mental illness, a brother (Gabriel Nicholson) who tried to keep the family together and an ailing grandmother (June Peterson) who spent the last few dementia ridden years of her life chronicling her unsettling internal relationship with a being she calls ‘Sator’, who reportedly talks in her head, dictates books filled with disquieting scripture and seems to have some stranglehold over this family as a group. When he’s not lost in dreamy memory recollection he wanders the perimeter of his property checking on motion sensor cameras he has set up all over the place and trust me you do *not* want to know what he finds they saw. This is a slow burn, arthouse, borderline surreal film through and through, and anyone without the patience for atmosphere, gradually cultivated tension and lyrical storytelling will be lost. There are payoffs and they are huge but first the film asks you to settle, to surrender and be swept away by the sights, sounds and dreamy world it offers before it reveals any secrets. It’s like if A24 did something akin to Blair Witch but with really earthen, nature based lore and a very atmosphere based approach. And as if the film weren’t scary enough, the concept of Sator and all the handwritten lore we see is authentic, very real stuff that actress June Peterson (who is the director’s real grandmother by the way) experienced in real life after a Ouija experience left her in psychiatric care going on about this ‘Sator’ thing for the rest of her life. If that doesn’t stand your hairs directly on end I don’t know what will, because when a film this scary can legitimately claim to be based on a true story in the *truest* sense of the concept, it’s enough to send anyone running for the hills and back again once they find whatever’s really out there. An absolute stunner of a horror film in every sense and one of those rare finds like It Follows, Hereditary, or The Blair Witch Project that successfully do what so many films in the genre promise to yet seldom deliver: scares the absolute fuck out of you. Streaming on Shudder now.

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