Sator (2019)

Jordan Graham took seven years to make this movie, thanks to the limits of its budget, but he also built the cabin that it takes place in, did nearly every job of making the film and cast his grandmother, June Peterson, who has been haunted by the demon Sator since 1968 in real life, automatically writing a lot of the words that are shown in the film. She spent time in a mental hospital, which makes you wonder if this movie was just exploiting her mental illness or could potentially be the story of a real demon that might, you know if you’re a Christian fundamentalist, be using this movie as a way to get into your mind.

Director, writer, editor, producer, cinematographer and editor Graham told Flickering Myth “In 1968, she brought home an ouija board and conjured up Sator. She then spent the next three months talking with him through something called automatic writings. She sat in a chair with a pen and let Sator speak through her. She wrote thousands and thousands of pages across the course of three months. And then, at the end of those three months, she ended up in a psychiatric hospital.”

Deciding to use her home as a location and having her act in a scene where she’d discuss Sator, she began sharing things she’d never told him. Over the shooting of the film, Peterson’s dementia got worse and she was taken to a care home, where Graham would visit and interview her, as well as study thousands of pages of her automatic writings and a diary where she explained how Sator guided her, using those interviews to write and then rewrite the movie based on what she told him.

In the film, her grandson has disappeared into the woods, obsessed with Sator. Perhaps his grandfather sacrificed himself to the demon, but definitely, there are other followers in the woods, wearing skulls and eventually, the protagonist becomes lost in the timeless world of the woods and the call of a demon.

It’s a slow build, but if there’s a movie that proves that folk horror doesn’t exist simply in the past. The truly frightening thing is that Sator itself is so powerful that even as the ravages of age made Graham’s grandmother forget her family, she didn’t forget the demonic spirit that dominated her life. It makes me wonder if mental illness is real or is demonology or both?

This isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a singular work by an auteur and there are times that it works perfectly and other times that it feels like it’s going nowhere slow and then it rewards your patience. I can see some loving it as equally as I can understand people hating it.

Sadly, June Peterson died before it was finished.

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