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Review: Hail Satan?

Still image from Hail Satan

This review is provided by Elena Sturk Lussier from our Open Call for Film Critics & Writers!
Follow her on Instagram at @elenasturklussier

REVIEW: Hail Satan?
dir. Penny Lane
2019 | United States | 95 min.

If there is one film this year that will change the way you think about religion, it just might be Penny Lane’s feature documentary Hail Satan? The film follows The Satanic Temple – a nontheistic group founded in 2013 that quickly gained a global religious following. Their goal is to preserve the separation between church and state, and to illustrate how religion clouds lawmaking in a seemingly theocratic America. The American Constitution was created on the basis of religious freedom, which leaves this group to wonder why Christianity is imposed and assumed across the USA?

The group’s beliefs are essentially rhetorical: if God has a place in government, then so does Mohammad, the Buddha and the Satanic half-goat, half-man Baphomet. If there must be Christian prayers in government before the start of a session, then there should be allowed Daoist, Mormon and satanic prayers too. Satan becomes a vehicle, an interchangeable metaphor for any religion but Christianity. Satanists do not believe in Satan, as their community is mostly atheist, but rather they use satanic imagery to shock. It is worth keeping in mind that to some, the image of Christ on the cross might be just as shocking. Some of the members use biblical imagery in their favour: they say embracing ‘the apple’ – the fruit of Enlightenment from the tree of knowledge – is at the core of Satanism.

The documentary aims to cut through the sensationalist media that has covered The Satanic Temple over the years, as well as satanism itself, to construct a more humanizing view of Satanists. The film addresses the propaganda circulated in the 1970s and 1980s during the Satanic Panic, wherein truth “the real evil was in the witch hunt itself.” Real people’s lives were ruined during this media frenzy, and the film shows how fear and propaganda continue to be used in the United States to pass laws.

The members of The Satanic Temple are godless, freethinking rebels working against tyranny. They fight for equality and religious freedom. They also call themselves “the original troll,” which is illustrated by their long legal battle to erect a statue of the demon Baphomet, to match monuments of the ten commandments on the lawns of Oklahoma and Arkansas State Capitals. (These monuments themselves, it turns out, were originally distributed across America by Paramount Pictures to promote the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments).

While Satanism is usually practised privately (as its members tend to be humble leftists), they have made activism at the core of satanic practice. They created the “After School Satan Club,” which teaches critical thinking, in response to the “After School Christian Club.” Their various chapters have started charities, such as “Menstruate with Satan,” cleaned up beaches and highways, provided the homeless with socks, and created blood drives, all to spread the spirit of empathy and compassion, one of their seven Tenets.

The film premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to wide acclaim, and it should not be missed at this year’s Gimli International Film Festival. Hail Satan? has all the qualities (and more) of a great documentary: it introduces vibrant characters and a fresh point of view, encourages critical thinking and does so with delightful lightness and wit that one would not expect from a documentary about The Satanic Temple.

Interested in seeing this film? Reserve your tickets for Hail Satan? here!