Fantasia 2019 Review: SATOR
Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Deep within the heart of any forest, there is always a strange, foreign energy that slowly infiltrates the minds of any and all that enter its confines. If we allow ourselves to, this energy can play tricks on our minds. Making us believe in things that are not there or bring out the most well-hidden parts of ourselves to the light. This particular energy is interwoven with the confines of Jordan Graham’s SATOR. But, after chipping past the layers that have been delicately laid out in the film, what we are left with is a tale that explores familial mental illness and asks the question of what is real and what is just inside our minds.

Jordan Graham crafts a story that is deeply personal, taking his grandmother’s experiences and stories growing up and interpreting them through a fictional format. It is this interweaving of personal with fictional that really helps to elevate a film that is very much a slow burn.

The power in this film is tied to a couple of things. The fact that the audience can take its time to untangle what is happening onscreen, figuring out whether everything that is happening is a result of the supernatural entity that resides within the forest or due to mental illness. The back and forth between the present day and what originally split the family apart helps to cut the tension up a bit, providing a much more deserved tension-built climax as we near the movie’s end. Then there is the cinematography. Graham couldn’t have picked more beautiful locations than he did for his external shots. You can’t help but pause the film to just take in the colors and the lighting beautifully displayed on the screen.

The one thing that I wish had been different was the build-up to the climax. SATOR is very much a slow burn. So slow that I found myself being taken out of the movie about two-thirds of the way into the film, which is something I seldom do. I wonder if one way to ease how slow the film feels is by cutting more of the flashbacks interspersed throughout the film. While they help fill the audience in on tidbits of the story, 5-10 minutes cut from these scenes may help to speed the pacing of this film along.

There were also questions that I had about the introduction of two female characters. One, in particular, I wasn’t sure as to whether or not she was an actual family member or whether or not she was SATOR in the flesh. There feels like there is an ambiguity there that I’m not sure whether or not it is intentional. But, if in fact is intentional, I’m not sure if other audience members may have been confused or not with this particular character’s introduction. However, I found myself wondering if I was misinterpreting the character’s purpose because the lines were blurred between what might be reality and what might be fiction.

Overall, SATOR is a film that explores what is reality and what is fiction when mental illness rears its ugly head. You’ll find yourself questioning the sanity of the family featured in this film. You’ll ask yourself if it’s just a genetic fluke that the majority of family members hear voices or if it is something else, something far more sinister and all-consuming. If you can be patient and don’t mind the slow pacing, this film will imprint its mark on you.

Sarah Musnicky
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