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Review: Sator – “A skin-crawling slow-burning singular vision”

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Released on digital download on the 15th February and DVD on the 22nd February, Sator is written and directed by Jordan Graham (Specter) and stars Gabriel Nicholson (Specter), Michael Daniel (Midground), Wendy Taylor (Pussies From Outer Space) and June Peterson (Sator).

Brothers Adam (Nicholson) and Pete (Daniel) live in cabins in the deep dark misty woods, regularly visiting their senile grandmother, Nani (Peterson). Nani gets mixed up and cannot always remember who her grownup grandsons are but what she is very sure of is Sator.

Sator is a sort of spirit of the forest, an old god of the woods that Nani receives messages from and communicates via automatic writing generated in a trance that she the records onto cassette tapes. According to Nani, Sator rules over the woodland and all flesh that lives within it and when he wants to you will cause you great pain – taking you when you are ready.

Graham drip-feeds information and backstory throughout, always keeping you hungrily hankering for more pieces, but we learn that Sator also got to Adam and Pete’s mother – who may have sacrificed their grandfather to Sator. And now Sator wants Adam.

As his world unravels and Sator’s whispered “teachings” slip inside his head and warp his mind and concept of reality, Adam is visited by terrifying figures in furs with animal skulls. Chilling as the unfolding events are Graham wisely also leaves us never entirely sure what does or doesn’t exist. Is there a cult with supernatural powers in the forest? And is Sator real or part of a hereditary mental illness, infecting the minds of each generation of Adam’s family?

Merely saying that Jordan Graham wrote and directed Sator is doing him a massive disservice. Sator is truly the work of an auteur, with Graham also the producer, cinematographer, editor, casting director, production designer, gaffer, grip, camera operator, colorist and sound designer, as well as being responsible for hair, makeup, special effects, costumes, the score and even constructing the cabin.

The atmosphere that Graham crafts is thick and palpable from the very beginning. Sator is instantly chilling thanks to the claustrophobic woods, candlelight visitations, whispered chanting and a foreboding sense of mystery and wonder that makes you desperate for the story to unfold but scared of what may be revealed. You will find yourself in fear of what will be there when a character moves out of the way, anxious to be confronted with what the camera may be about to cut to. It is chilling, thrilling, downright masterful, and reminds you of the first time you saw The Witch.

Gabriel Nicholson is excellent as Adam, an avatar for us – dropped into this sinister place, at the mercy of Sator and struggling to keep it together, and Michael Daniel as his brother is just right. A spot-on older brother who is dismissive of shenanigans and all this silly Sator stuff; willing to help, but never convinced no matter the evidence to the contrary. The real star of the show, however, is June Peterson as Nani. That this is apparently her debut is shocking because she is wonderful. A seemingly sweet old forgetful lady one moment, perhaps an agent of dark forces the next, utterly under Sator’s spell and willing to do whatever she thinks he tells her as soon as make you a cup of tea.

Sator is a skin-crawling slow-burning singular vision that feels deliciously tangibly evil, and is one of the must-see horror films of 2021. This film is a dark, whispering nerves-plucker to keep you out of the forest and that you will be feeling deep in your bones for a long time after.

Sator is released on digital download on the 15th February and DVD on the 22nd February.

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