Hail Satan? Review
R: Graphic nudity, and some language
Magnolia Pictures, Hard Working Movies
1 Hr 36 Minutes
Dir: Penny Lane
With unprecedented access, HAIL SATAN? traces the rise of The Satanic Temple: only six years old and already one of the most controversial religious movements in American history. The Temple and its enigmatic leader Lucien Greaves are calling for a Satanic revolution to save the nation's soul. But are they for real? Through their dogged campaign to place a nine-foot, bronze Satanic monument smack dab next to the statue of the Ten Commandments on the Arkansas State Capitol lawn, the leaders of the temple force us to consider the true meaning of the separation of church and state.
When you hear the term “Satanism”, do you get triggered? Does the word make you perk up with a negative reaction? Yes, we’ve all watched The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina where we’ve become a bit accustomed to hearing the word in context to the series, but just hearing the term on its own always leaves people a little on edge without even knowing what it truly means or who they are. That’s the primary idea that director Penny Lane tries to convey in this doc, which centers on The Satanic Temple and their journey to fight for their right.
Right off the bat, the film has this light tone and takes a welcoming comedic approach to the subject without having the people within this religious community be taken as a joke. The humor of the film primarily comes from the confusion of people who oppose them, whether it may be Christians or news outlets. Hell, the news outlet that Lane takes the most footage from is Fox News and boy, is it ironically hilarious. The film opens with Satanic Temple co-founder Lucien Greaves and a Satanist at a Rick Scott rally and a person shouts out, “You’re gonna go to hell.” That Satanist replies with:
That already strikes the kind of tone the film has and Lane maintains that throughout. That’s like finding a Christian with their “God Hates Fags” banner and a homosexual Satanist being like, “well, at least Satan loves and embraces me.” Immediately, you sense the fact that these Satanists are pretty likable and fun people. If you strip them of their beliefs, they have this irresistible energy that is admirable to witness. The film attempts to normalize Satanism in the same way we as a society easily normalize Christianity, and it succeeds in all fronts. From the angle Lane depicts these people and displays how civil, peaceful, fun, and ultimately chill they are, you just feel compassionate towards them. She doesn’t even try to manipulate the audience or use it as propaganda, but she genuinely lays out who they are and displays their fight against injustice and the blatant Christian supremacy present in America.
In a very conformist society, the film follows The Satanic Temple and the people across the globe who inherit its beliefs over Christianity and Catholicism. We see them try to do everything that Christians do, but in their own systematic notion, even down to bringing it to school districts for kids to be a bit more open-minded. The people interviewed make strong arguments throughout as to why they prefer Satanism over everything else. They even use stories from the Bible, such as Adam and Eve, as an example to spin the story in a thought-provoking perspective that is convincing. Hell, one person takes jabs at the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston’s sex abuse scandal and by that moment you have to go:
My favorite was a man who recollects his experience by going on a class trip to see Ghandi and the surprising pivotal message his teacher said that had him baffled.
That moment in the film had me going through my personal experience with Christianity, specifically Jehovah’s Witnesses, during my adolescent years (13-16), and how I started to denounce it. I usually save personal anecdotes for my “THE RENDY” section of the review, but this is in context to the story. It was 2011 and my dad and I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and it was awesome. The next day at “The Hall” I went up to people (or “brothers,” as they would call it) and talk about how great the film was and they would just give me a look of disdain and inform me that it was forbidden to watch movies about wizards or anything that relates to mythology because it’s against what Jehovah believes and can brainwash you. I was just a 13-year-old who loved movies, so of course my initial reaction was:
My mom was the one who got us into Christianity and my soon-to-be atheist self got us out because it is very much a cult, more so than the Satanic Temple. The film breaks down the set of rules and guidelines they abide by and believe me it is much less than everything the Bible has. They try so hard to maintain that code, and even if someone in their chapter breaks it, they let them go. Unlike this country, Satanists are not one for hypocrisy and I respect that.
Besides displaying the people of the Satanic Temple and how they function, it deconstructs the stereotypes of Satanism in the media and addresses them by adding complexity and depth. They have this union and community that is welcoming and accepting of all people no matter how they identify in terms of gender and sexuality. You could be the nicest person on Earth but if you’re a homosexual, Christians would shame you or worse. The Satanists, on the other hand, don’t. It does a great job establishing the roles of good and evil.
As the film progresses, it enters a very grey yet relevant area. After Lane establishes these Satanists and who they are, she drives into the meat and aims straight at Christianity. A great majority of the story is exploiting the hypocrisy of American history and tries to pinpoint when exactly we’ve become a Christian supremacist country in the midst of their journey to put their Satanic monument of Baphomet right next to the Christian monument of the Ten Commandments on the Arkansas state capitol.
The information the film provides about how much this country has a hard-on for Christianity is thought-provoking and expresses the sheer ignorance that has been going on with our nation’s spiritual values and how much it corrupts these Satanists’ given constitutional rights. The most enlightening thing about all of it is how subtle hate is served from the people who are supposed to serve good. The only people who seem to cover their journey is Fox News, who has a loving relationship with Donald Trump, so if that doesn’t say anything about the true evils in the world, I don’t know what does. It also boldly takes shots at faith-based movies (which is the most manipulative propaganda film genre out there) as a connection to the systematic brainwashing of Christianity and it makes valid points.
Whether you’re a Satanist or not, on a humanitarian level you relate to these people who just want to be themselves. There is a chilling scene of Lucien putting on a bulletproof vest before going to the State Capital just in case a crazed Jesus freak shoots him down. It is powerful to see that even a Satanist who is fighting for his constitutional right present in the first amendment has to put on a bulletproof vest because, in this country, mass shootings have become more normalized than this religious group who just want respect and to see a separation of church and state and that is a goddamn shame.
The film takes a great share of jabs at Christianity in the states, but at times I felt like it went a bit too safe when it could’ve gotten more controversial and grittier. It would’ve been great if the film addressed the issue of conversion therapy since that’s a faith-based institution. It wouldn’t have been that much of a pivotal shift to the narrative. To be honest, there was a great opportunity to address it.
Hail Satan? makes a ton of insightful, eye-opening points, more so than I wish I’d known during my wasted time as a J.W. As an atheist, I truly respect the valiant efforts Penny Lane and her subjects achieve and hope this film is seen, especially by Christians, for it is enlightening, chilling, and most of all funny as hell. The film is about religious discrimination and the people who go out to fight against it, not who they pray to. That said, Satanists: you got my respect, more so than Christians. Now I’m going to go catch up on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Can’t wait for the sequel that addresses their beef with the series.