By Scott Dorward
Sator (USA, 2019)
If you asked, I probably say that my ideal horror film would be something slow and creepy, rooted in folk horror. My experiences this month are making me reconsider this, however. Between my lack of engagement with Hagazussa and The Eyes of My Mother, and now this film, maybe my tastes are changing. With its more esoteric elements, Sator isn’t precisely a folk horror film, but its woodland setting certainly ties it to the genre. But beyond that, I’d struggle to say what it is. And maybe that’s the problem.
Bear with me. There isn’t enough of a plot for me to synopsise Sator easily. Judging by the lack of synopses on any of the usual film sites, I’m not the only person to struggle with this.
Basically, there’s a man in a woodland cabin. Creepy things happen there and in the surrounding woodlands. This all ties in with his family, especially his senile grandmother, who talks about being in contact with a demonic entity called Sator. Oh, and there seems to be a cult.
This is a slow film that relies entirely on atmosphere. It is 14 minutes before there is any actual dialogue. Until this point, we just hear weird, rambling monologues. In general, the dialogue is mumbled and oblique enough as to challenge us to care about what anyone is actually saying.
One nice visual touch is the switch between colour and black and white, with changes in aspect ratio, whenever we flash back. It does feel like watching someone’s home movies, filling in a few details of the family history.
I want to feel something about Sator or to have deep, contemplative thoughts about it, but I’m coming up empty. There just wasn’t enough here that I could connect with in any way. It was certainly eerie and pretty to look at. A few times it managed to make me uncomfortable. But in the end, there just wasn’t much there.
Sator definitely prioritises style over substance. That is not to say that there is no substance — just that it works hard to be oblique. I’ve been told that the film’s depths open up when you read about how the filmmaker worked aspects of his own family life into the narrative. That’s fine, and even a little intriguing, but a film needs to stand on its own merits. I am old and grumpy and I do not want to have to do homework to find a horror film engaging.
As much as I love folk horror, maybe I’ve just had too much of people running around in darkened woods, chasing creepy sounds. If I were to be dismissive, I’d just say that Sator is a mash-up of The Blair Witch Project and The Witch, but without the emotional depth of the latter. It does deserve a better appraisal than that, however. While it may not have worked for me, I do admire its aspirations. I’ll just leave appreciation to those who got more from its mysteries.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Possessor (2020)
- The Boogey Man (1980)
- Jakob’s Wife (2021)
- The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
- Cold Hell (2017)
- Seance (2021)
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
- Dachra (2018)
- Isle of the Dead (1945)
- After Midnight (2019)
- The Baby (1973)
- Hagazussa (2017)
- Frightmare (1974)
- The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
- Dave Made a Maze (2017)
- Raw (2016)
- The Old Ways (2020)
- Terror Train (1980)
- mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
- Sator (2019)
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
- The Lighthouse (2019)
- Anything For Jackson (2020)
- Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
- The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
- The Wizard of Gore (1970)
- Fingers (2019)
- Lake Bodom (2016)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!