The story behind the horror film Sator is almost as interesting as the film itself.
A deeply personal and atmospheric film inspired by true events, director Jordan Graham’s slow-burning horror follows a secluded family living in a remote cabin in the woods. There, Adam (Gabriel Nicholson) and siblings Deborah (Aurora Lowe) and Pete (Michael Daniel) feel an impending sense of dread surrounding their grandmother, Nani (played by Graham’s real-life grandmother, June Peterson). Their suspicions reveal the family has long been stalked and manipulated by a demon entity known as Sator who has been subtly influencing them for years, trying to claim them as his own.
While the synopsis may seem like your average demonic possession arthouse horror, Sator’s personal ties to Graham elevate the film. Blending the line between fact and fiction, the director’s own family served as inspiration for the story; for generations, his family, including his late grandmother Peterson have claimed to have communicated with Sator. Mixing black-and-white home video footage, the real Peterson calls the entity her “guardian angel”, revealing unconscious writings and scribblings dictated to her, as witnessed in the opening credits.
Here, her confession is as much horrific as it is heartbreaking. Peterson and Graham’s great-grandmother, as well as his great-great-grandmother, were all institutionalized in psychiatric facilities at various points in their lifetime for hearing voices. Beset with dementia, Peterson lost the majority of her memories, but one of the few she did retain was her history with Sator. For Graham, approaching this difficult family history in the form of a horror film feels like a cathartic personal dream-like experience, especially as the story dips into fictional “what ifs”.
While writer-director-actors are commonplace, Sator‘s Graham is so much more. Though he doesn’t appear in the film, he’s all over it in every other way: as director, writer, producer, cinematographer, editor, casting director, costumer, set constructer, visual and special effect editor, colourist, sound designer, mixer, scorer, production designer, makeup artist, grip and gaffer.
Being a jack of all trades here is both a blessing and a curse. At times, one can’t help but wonder what would have resulted if the film had been approached via the lens of an outsider. Perhaps they would have been able to tighten up some of the film’s deliberately drawn-out moments or maybe offered some insight into how the flashback-filled narrative would be digested by those unfamiliar with Graham’s family’s history.
Though it clocks in at under 90 minutes, the most difficult part of Sator is the film’s pacing. It is, without a doubt, one of the slowest slow-burns of recent memory, made for people who thought Relic was too speedy. That said, there is an audience out there for Sator. Those who are patient with the film will be rewarded with an atmospheric horror filled to the brim with dread.
Sator previously made the rounds at various genre and horror festivals including Fantasia and the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. It’s set for digital release today, February 9.