Sator sets a grim tone for itself early on and manages to establish a chilling atmosphere, but still comes up short. There’s so much attention to creating this unsettling atmosphere that little attention was given to the characters involved. Sator is a slow burn that almost gets it right, but with a story carried by hollow characters and subpar acting, it squanders the potential it showed.
The most frustrating aspect of Sator is its ability to keep you invested in the story despite the lackluster characters it centers on. The mythos of Sator isn’t fully fleshed out, but this knowledge of a supernatural entity stalking this forest is built up tremendously. A brilliant build to the film’s final moments where this entity is finally showcased. Directed and written by Jordan Graham, Sator stars Michael Daniel, Rachel Johnson, Aurora Lowe, Gabriel Nicholson, Wendy Taylor, and June Peterson. The film follows a family as they are terrorized in the forest by an entity known as Sator. Taking place primarily in a cabin in the woods, Sator has come to claim them all.
Graham’s supernatural entity is what keeps this screenplay afloat, and it’s this constant uncertainty of where it is during most of the runtime that makes the film uncomfortable at times. Besides that, the family it centers on is there to assist with making Sator more important than they are. The screenplay doesn’t balance out the development for these characters, which results in them coming off one dimensional. They are reduced to being nothing more than hype men for the entity you will anxiously be waiting to meet. Sator takes place mostly with Adam (Nicholson), a member of this broken family who is secluded in the woods. Graham’s screenplay doesn’t offer much about Adam, so there’s no room to care about him or his fate.
Thankfully, Sator is more interested in evoking fear with its lingering sense of dread that only intensifies with each scene. The atmosphere in this film is undeniable, and it assists with some horrific shots that are shown at certain points. The overused jump scare methods are in short supply here, but the terror is still present thanks to a concern with generating fear from within by playing with the human psyche. Performance-wise, Sator doesn’t include many performances that should be considered good, but they are sufficient enough. Nicholson is fine as Adam, but his delivery is flat almost every time and he isn’t given much to do. It’s mostly people standing around with glazed over looks, or just staring in the direction of the camera.
When a filmmaker understands how to spark fear through tension building, long tracking shots, and creating a spine-tingling atmosphere, it should never go unnoticed. Graham may have come up short with his script, but he directs this film very well. He opts to build on this fear of the unknown by establishing this unsettling vibe from the moment Sator starts and doesn’t relinquish it until the film fades to black. Also, the cinematography from Graham is beautiful as well. It accompanies the grim mood he manages to consistently keep throughout the film’s runtime. Graham put together the haunting score that will linger in your mind after the film has concluded as well.
Sator might be similar to Hereditary and The Witch, but what it lacks is quality characters to become invested in. A slow burn that will continue to be felt for some time after and Graham has put together a solid folk horror that keeps you on the edge. Sator could be in the discussion of art-house horror for its style and technical strengths highlighted throughout. Unfortunately, Graham’s genius behind the camera didn’t fully translate to the script, which keeps Sator from reaching its potential in the end.