Sator (2021)

Jordan Graham

Running Time: 86 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Gabe Nicholson, Michael Daniel, June Peterson, Rachel Johnson, Aurora Lowe, Wendy Taylor

Within a desolate forest, Adam (Gabe Nicholson) spends his days in isolation, with only his dog for company. His time is spent hunting for food, and through his cameras, looking out for something among the trees. Along with his brother Pete (Michael Daniel), they've been warned about Sator, a supernatural entity their grandmother (June Peterson) claims has been whispering in her ear throughout life.

For his second feature film as director, Jordan Graham devoted seven years to bringing this project alive, serving a multitude of other roles including writer, producer, cinematographer, composing the score, and building the set. It was a clear labour of love for him, which makes sense as the origins lay in his own family history. Inspiring the story was his grandmother's genuine belief in a spirit called Sator, which began in 1968, and led to her being institutionalised. When the inspiration lays within a personal thread, such resonance in the material becomes abundantly clear.

As we see the isolated lifestyle that Adam lives, it becomes clear he's now used to his own company. He keeps to himself in his cabin, spending his evenings staring at the images his camera has captured, and listening to recordings of his grandmother preaching about Sator. Adam isn't one for talking much, something which is more in Pete's wheelhouse, as he regularly checks up on his brother. There's a clear care in his actions, as the past weighs heavily on the siblings, captured in the quietly affecting portrayals by Gabe Nicholson and Michael Daniel. Their lives have been altered by their mothers disappearance, and all the boys have left are theories as to what happened.

Whether it's the monochrome flashbacks often framed as home movies, or the woodland scenes teasing something in the midst, there's an atmospheric quality to these beautifully shot scenes. While this slow-burn tale quietly unfolds, your attention is firmly grasped throughout. This is thanks to the combination of the stunning imagery and the exceptional sound design, which crafts something hypnotic. It calls to mind Ari Aster's Hereditary, as the questions hangs over the film as to what's truly responsible. Are demonic forces truly accountable for what unfolds, or is it down to a psychological breakdown? At the same time, it evokes Robert Eggers' The Witch, as the destructive nature of belief takes the story to its conclusion.

As the feature goes on, the cracks within the familial unit become more apparent, and we see how much they're haunted by past ghosts. No matter how much they try to distance themselves from past troubles, there's a tragic futility to these actions which is chilling to watch. Looming over them is a familial curse which feels inescapable, moving towards a climax that makes your blood run cold, and will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. All that's left is to dwell on what you've watched, only serving to raise how haunting it all is.

Sator will be available on Digital Download from 15th February, on DVD from 22nd February, and be pre-ordered from iTunes here.