NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on February 8, 2021
In a desolate forest, home to little more than the decaying remnants of the past, a broken family is further torn apart by a mysterious death. Adam, guided by a pervasive sense of dread, hunts for answers only to learn that they are not alone; an insidious presence by the name of Sator has been observing his family, subtly influencing all of them for years in an attempt to claim them.
What you just read is the official synopsis of Sator, it really doesn’t give you the best indication of what to expect when you begin the strange ride that is watching Sator. It’s less of a narrative film and more of a mood piece, choosing to spend its time creating a tone that will carry throughout the runtime of the film. It’s certainly got a narrative to it, events happen and the main character Adam does seem to go through them but it is almost secondary to the feeling of dread the film is giving throughout.
That sense of dread is constantly at a simmer, there’s just something about the goings on in these woods that’s quite unnerving. This is mostly due to the wonderful visuals on display, some of the imagery put on film is gorgeous but just odd enough that it’ll make the hair on your neck stand up on end. While there are some jump scares to be found, most of the more frightful moments come just from the slow unveiling of what’s hidden in the darkness or a particularly creepy looking skull-head costume. It’s all so very careful… almost too careful.
Sator has the pace of a snail suffering from a hernia, it’s slow and it knows it’s slow and it will take all the goddamn time that it wants to take no matter what you tell it. On one hand this is a fascinating way to handle the story and lets everything just happen in its own time… On the other hand I’m sitting here watching a film with next to no dialogue test my brain’s ability to concentrate hard as possible for 90 minutes with as little stimulation as possible.
I hate to break it to Sator but my brain can only handle so much before it starts playing whatever random pop song got stuck in there recently (100% Pure Love by Crystal Waters, for those who are curious… and if you know why that song would be stuck in my head, you’re a very cool person).
Sator’s slowness is an intentional design choice and I can’t deny that it works well but I also am aware that a lot of audiences are not going to be able to sit and focus on this thing for the entire runtime without just wandering off. Some might, some people look at Warhol’s 1964 film Empire and can take in every flickering light or weird little detail and never lose focus but I wager most would eventually start checking out and that’s something that concerns me about Sator.
How many are going to watch Sator and tune out? Because it’s a really good film that I would love to see a lot of people enjoy, but it’s also the kind of film you have to be in the exact right mood for.
You can’t just pop Sator on and casually watch it, you have to either accept you’re not going to follow any narrative and accept it as a mood piece that you look at occasionally and feel unease about or you need to shut off every other piece of outside stimuli and just go for it. Keep in mind that latter option will require you to be as well rested as possible with caffeine on standby because an hour and a half of no stimuli, you’re going to have an issue getting through it.
There’s the tragedy of Sator, there’s a lot of really great things going on here and a fascinating filmmaker that should be given the widest audience to share his work because it’s genuinely impressive but I know for a fact this is not going to be the kind of film most people will go for, indeed some might just class it as boring and switch it off by the half-hour mark. I urge you to push through and make it to the end just for the visuals alone, some of the imagery is so well done that it makes me want to see more from this creator.
Sator is a genuinely impressive film, filled with some stunning imagery and a tension that’s constant and if you make it through the whole thing, you’ll be rewarded for your time… but you really have to invest that time and do whatever you can to keep yourself invested during it because the film isn’t going to do it for you. It’s a great film that people might stop partway through out of boredom and I don’t think I can blame them for that.