Jordan Graham took the history of mental illness in his family and created an unsettling journey in his latest film Sator.
Siblings Adam, Peter and Debra (Gabriel Nicholson, Michael Daniel, and Aurora Lowe) are part of a haunting family legacy. Their grandmother Nani (June Peterson), has lived for many years with an entity called Sator, who communicates through her by automatic writing. She also hears voices and can often see beings from another realm. Although she says Sator is her guardian, she tells of his arrival after a great suffering, and he has this family in its crosshairs, ready to claim them for an eternity.
Adam is determined to find out if Sator is real and spends time in his grandparents’ tiny cabin deep in the woods. He has a camera set up outside to film anything odd, and he listens to his grandmother’s recorded dissertations on the power Sator has over her and the family. Adam starts to hear things in the cabin and feels he is being watched. His siblings aren’t as convinced, but Adam won’t stray from his investigation of Sator and if this entity is behind his grandfather’s death.
I don’t scare easily, but I’m glad I watched Sator in a brightly lit room in a highrise. The isolation, eerie atmosphere, fantastic sound design that perhaps surpassed the dialogue audio, and the disturbing recitations of the director’s grandmother were so unsettling; it was easy to lose yourself in the story. Sator is a slow piece, and the film comes together towards the end, so you have to stick with it, trust the director, and immerse yourself in the mystery.
In several interviews, Graham talks about the five years he spent on Sator, filming, compiling footage of his real-life grandmother and the automatic writing she produced, creating the sound design and grading the film. It was truly a labour of love because he wanted to make the movie personal. You can’t get more personal than the real mental health issues that have plagued the women in his family for decades. Don’t look for any exploitation, though. It seems the story is written from a place of mystery and wonder about a very real situation in his grandmother’s mind. From building the family cabin to doing everything himself post-production, the end product is powerfully atmospheric and frightening. It’s a great addition to the folk horror subgenre, and I can’t wait to see what he creates next.
Sator has had great success on its festival run, and you can see it on iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon, and Google Play, February 9th.