An Entity Stalks the Forest in Tense and Atmospheric Sator (2021)
Updated: May 8, 2021
First Wide Release: February 9, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Jordan Graham
Writer: Jordan Graham
Runtime: 85 Minutes
Starring: Gabriel Nicholson, Michael Daniel, June Peterson
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Adam (Gabriel Nicholson) lives in solitude out in the woods with only his dog for company. Every now and then his brother Pete (Michael Daniel) visits him. Adam suspects something is amiss in the woods as he picks up strange phenomena on the various deer cams he placed around his house. Is Adam paranoid or is he being stalked by the entity that his grandmother Nani (June Peterson) claimed visited her? His family is worried about him but they can’t seem to talk any sense into him. Time passes and Adam fights to stay alive and keep his sanity as he is relentlessly pursued by specters in the forest. Can he do anything to save himself and his family or is his fate already sealed?
A bleak and restrained exercise in isolation horror, Sator is a marvelous feat of indie filmmaking.
Draped in ambiguity and told over the course of several weeks, Sator takes its time delivering creeping psychological horror. The concept of the film sees an entity take over and dissolve a family. It sews distrust, grief, and fear in its victims, while intentionally keeping them alive. With minimal dialogue and a light plot, Sator uses clever camerawork and editing to setup its supernatural terror. When toggling back and forth between narratives, it changes up the aspect ratio, which provides an excellent feeling of claustrophobia even during some of the lighter scenes.
The horror in Sator isn’t in specific haunting imagery or gore-soaked finales, it is in the unspoken moments of doubt that populate otherwise normal parts of your life. We know something is wrong and that Adam is in danger but we never really know what to expect from that information. As we learn more from the various cutbacks to Nani explaining her experiences with the entity, we find increasingly disturbing things happen to Adam as he goes about his life. Gabe Nicholson carries the emotional weight of the film, struggling to maintain his composure in the face of such insurmountable terror.
There’s a lot to like in Sator. It’s filled to the brim with absolutely gorgeous cinematography. The use of light and dark and colors to highlight the characters at night is well-done and helps create some of my favorite sequences. It also has great sound design. From disembodied whispers to rushing waterfalls and gunshots to the prolonged silences in between, everything hits hard while becoming its own orchestra against the action of the film. I haven’t even mentioned the effects work. It’s incredible how realistic everything looks here. I especially love the creature design; it radiates a foreboding atmosphere and elevates the film to terrifying heights.
Obviously, there are some detractors as well. Sator moves at a snail’s pace. It never really picks up aside from one scene in the woods that is pure adrenaline and brilliance. I appreciate the moody ambience and the general disquieting nature of the film, but it does become a bit repetitive, especially towards the end. Some might also balk at the lack of plot. I think that there’s a certain charm to a film that allows its audience’s mind to wander, but it is a fair criticism to make.
While I feel that Sator never gives off the satisfying release it teases, it is still a wonderfully crafted labor of love that the horror community should really celebrate. It took six full years of production to finish Sator. Jordan Graham literally did almost every nonacting task on this film. Which is just insane when you think about it. What’s more is you can tell it helps maintain the cohesive vision of the film. I can recommend this film as it is incredibly well done, but its pacing does hold me back from enthusiastically suggesting it. So, if you do decide to check it out, be prepared. Atmospheric and audacious, Sator is one film that will have viewers mystified by its cryptic story and impressed by its production.
Overall Score? 7/10