SATOR (2019, streaming on Shudder) is a solid addition to the category of films I’d label, “WTF did I just watch.” This supernatural horror film, about a family being ground down by a demon, excels in atmosphere, mood, and constant simmering dread, but it’s slow, pretty confusing, and I found the voice acting by one of the actors low in volume and sometimes garbled to a point I had to use subtitles to see what they were saying. Overall, I liked it a lot.
I’m going to take a stab at telling you what it’s about, but you may have your own interpretation. A man, Adam, lives in a cabin in the woods, after the horrible death of his grandfather and disappearance of his mother. His brother Pete, estranged from his girlfriend Evie, visits from time to time. They have a sister, Deborah, who is remote from the family. Their grandmother (Nani) lives on her own with growing dementia and talks often about the relationship she’s had with a personal spirit named Sator since 1968. Apparently, Adam and Pete’s mother also had the same relationship. Photos show the family being happy at one time, but the growing presence of Sator corrupted everything and left them all broken. Adam appears to want to find Sator, while Sator appears to be toying with him, leading to a final confrontation.
The film was written and directed by Jordan Graham, who worked on it for seven years, including building the cabin himself. The film is messy but as far as atmosphere and cinematography go, it’s quite beautifully done. The love really shows. But it’s Nani who steals the show–she’s played by Graham’s grandmother June Peterson, and the real June did indeed have a relationship with Sator, from hearing him in her head to frequent bouts of automatic writing, which we see in the film. And not only his grandmother, but his great- and great-great grandmother as well. Graham had originally intended the film to be about something else, but the more he talked to his grandmother, the more he decided to base his film around this family demon. June is incredibly likeable, describing with adorable elderly charm how she has a loving relationship with a personal spirit.
As with much of today’s horror, Sator may be metaphor for very real mental illness, passed down from each generation of the family, or it may be a very real demon whose love for and desire for love from a family is expressed as domination and corruption.
Overall, I have to say I really liked it. It has its flaws–sometimes not seeming to know what it wants to be, a confusing script, a very slow pace–but it’s unique, well crafted, and is plenty creepy.