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Review: SATOR (2019) – Fantasia 2019

Five years in the making and largely the work of one man Sator, the second film from Jordan Graham (Specters) is an odd, challenging film. Based on events that occurred in Graham’s family, this is as much a very dark family drama as it is a horror film.

Told with minimal dialogue but lots of evocative imagery, Sator revolves around Adam (Gabe Nicholson) who lives alone in the woods. He spends his days wandering around with a rifle and studying the feed from a solitary trail cam. His brother Pete (Michael Daniel) is the only one who visits him, and that’s not a frequent occurrence. The other two members of this dysfunctional family are their sister Evie (Rachel Johnson) and their grandmother Nani (June Peterson). Nani is suffering from dementia and often can’t remember her children. But she can remember everything the spirit Sator has said to her.

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Adam spends his nights listening to old cassette tapes of his mother’s bizarre rambling that mix Christianity, other religions and occultism. He becomes convinced Sator is not only real but responsible for the death of their father. And that it’s coming back again.

The obvious question is, of course, is this all real or does madness run in the family? Sator doesn’t provide much in the way of answers, and what it does provide you have to work for. You have to pay attention to the tapes and the many flashback scenes.

This isn’t a film you can watch while distracted, it needs your full attention and then some. More than once I had to rewind to make sure I heard some of the tape right or to recheck some detail. Combined with the film’s slow, measured pace, it frequently goes from fascinating to frustrating. That pace does, however, make Sator’s climax all the more shocking.

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There is, however, no denying the incredible amount of work and dedication that was put into Sator. The sound and visuals are incredible. Flashbacks allow for some equally good black and white footage. All of which is the work of one very talented man, which makes it more amazing. I’d love to see what Graham could do with a better budget.

A lot of time and effort also went into crafting the film’s intricate story. I just wish Sator had been a bit more accessible at times. A challenging film isn’t a bad thing, but I shouldn’t feel like I’m working to sort out the plot, either.

Sator made its world premiere at Fantasia 2019 and will be playing more festivals through the summer. You can keep updated on the film’s Facebook page.

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