Movie Review: Hail Satan?
The new documentary covers the fight for religious freedom in the United States in a unique and entertaining light
COLUMBUS — When you first think about Satanism, you probably think about sex cults, blood, and people wandering around in black cloaks trying to kill babies. But while Penny Lane’s (@Lennypane) new documentary incorporates these elements into her newest film for their triviality, they’re hardly the most interesting part of the story.
Hail Satan? follows the fight for religious freedom in American politics as the Satanic Temple (or TST) takes on the Christian establishment across the country. While the Satanic Temple does incorporate the traditional symbols of Satanism into their message, they quickly explain that it has a greater purpose: to go against the establishment and show the hypocrisy of the narrative that the United States is a Christian nation.
I was able to go to a screening of this film provided by the Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University as a part of Flyover Fest, which a weekend of public readings and film showings in the city of Columbus. After the showing, there was a Q&A with Lane, who is incredibly well spoken and personable. As someone who was pretty familiar with the topic beforehand and has read the Satanic Bible, I was interested to see how this project would come together. I was definitely impressed and the film did not disappoint.
Lane’s style in this film is an entertaining mix of subtle comedy and seriousness that she brings through creative montage and interesting interview subjects. The most enticing part of this movie is the people, who draw forward the story and make it impossible not to love. From the beginning, the cast of characters is wild and loveable, which adds to their appeal. You simply want to get to know these people because they’re so eclectic and passionate about their work.
This film’s strength is in its contrasts. It directly questions the authority of the friendly Sunday pastor and the nice ladies at church that you’ve known all your life and unravels them before your eyes. By the end of the film, you’re cheering the Satanists on — and you probably should be. The Satanists’ argument is pretty much impossible to argue with. So much so that the Christian establishment ends up looking quite foolish by the conclusion.
One of the most potent moments of the film takes place following the events on Harvard’s campus in 2014, in which the Satanic Temple attempted to hold a black mass in Boston, leading to the protest of thousands of Catholics. The day after, one of the interview subjects (who remains anonymous) talks about feeling guilty for their actions, until he comes to the realization that the Catholic church has actually been molesting children and covering it up for decades — a far worse crime than anything they’ve committed.
These moments in the film are what makes it unique. From defending women’s health care, collecting menstrual products, and cleaning up beaches and highways across America, you begin to get the idea that the Satanists just want to be good people and they want you to be a good person too.
Another interesting part of the documentary addresses the comments of one of the members of the Detriot chapter after she made controversial comments during a rally that allegedly threatened President Donald Trump. However, during the Q&A on Friday, May 10th, Lane specifically addressed this part of the film after a question from the audience, stating that while she did believe that this incident had been taken out of context in the media, she also understood the decision to remove the Detroitite from the official organization.
Hail Satan? also emphasizes a long forgotten part of our modern history — the Satanic insanity of the 1980s. The film points out that while the Christian church was busy creating the cold war narrative that the United States was a Christian nation, people’s lives were genuinely ruined by the Satanic panic all over the country through pointless arrests and accusations. This was something that I actually didn’t know a lot about and it made me think about other hidden parts of our history that I’ve never heard about.
Overall, this is a brilliantly entertaining film with a serious topic. I would recommend this to anyone with an open mind (or quite frankly, a very closed one too) and an interest in the current political climate.
Oh, and also, Hail Satan.