While many horror movies will opt for bombastic blood and fear, there are a few that go for a minimalistic, surreal style, tackling the concept of fear with few words by choosing instead to use slow shots and brooding ambiance to craft a world filled with fear and mystery. Premiering at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Sator is one of these films. A deeply personal and haunting film, Sator gets under your skin and does not let go, even well after the credits roll and you are left alone with your thoughts.
Adam (Gabe Nicholson) lives a lonely, isolated existence in a desolate, remote cabin with few visitors. With his focus being on a “Deer Cam” in the woods and occasionally getting visits from his brother Pete (Michael Daniel), his life is one of introspection and solitude. Another family member, his grandmother Nani (June Peterson) is an ever-present force in his life. Her stories and tales of the “Sator” ever-present in his mind and throughout the movie.
This spirt has long lived in the mind of Nani, training her and teaching her its ways. But it is slowly seeping out, making itself manifest in the real world and infecting not only Adam, but everyone in the family. As the spirt makes itself known in more tangible ways, the life and sanity Adam has known slowly begin crumbling around him.
From the first minutes of the film, handwritten credits make it clear that this is a deeply personal film for director Jordan Graham. The characters and events are taken from real family experiences. It’s a moody, dark, and introspective film that paints a bleak picture of isolation and sanity and a man on the brink of losing everything.
Transitioning between widescreen colour and 4:3 black and white for flashbacks, Sator is a uniquely crafted, slow-moving, and beautiful film that captures the feeling of unease with every shot. The atmosphere is unmistakable, using dark woods, still shots, and snow-covered countryside to shocking effect. The chilling setting also works to outline the level of evil that plagues the lives, and the minds of this family sitting on the brink of ruin.
While Sator may not be the most exhilarating watches of the Fantasia Festival, the brutal violence and scenes of carnage work to juxtapose the simple tranquility of the forest and nature. As Adam loses his grip on reality, and the sanity he once understood breaks down, the horrors that used to live only in the minds are made manifest, leading to truly bloody results.
Sator is a film that is well worth the investment. The setting, concept, and personal nature make the film as engaging as it is foreboding. The subtle performances and cinematography work to craft a horrific and terrifying experience. While not a perfect film, Sator is an exciting entry into the horror pantheon and one I personally hope finds a home in in the hearts and minds of people looking for dark, brooding horror.