The devil is the ultimate boogeyman. So, it makes sense that Satanic imagery is deeply embedded in popular culture. Satanism is at the heart of horror movies like Rosemary’s Baby and House of the Devil. It’s alluded to in TV series like True Detective. And thousands of the vilest demons pour out of a hell dimension in the video game series Doom. Aligning oneself with Satan has always been the ultimate act of rebellion. And now director Penny Lane’s documentary Hail Satan? asks us if we’ve got Satanism all wrong.
What if everything you thought you knew about modern day Satanic worship was ass-backwards? It’s an outrageous premise, right? Hail Satan? turns that reflexive outrage back on the viewer to show how uninformed they are. Modern-day Satanic Temple worshipers don’t lurk in shadows, they express themselves out in the open – often defiantly.
The people Lane profiles in her documentary are average American tax-paying citizens. Not animal-sacrificing child murderers. They tend to be non-conformists and free-thinkers who believe in upholding the entire country’s civil liberties. What that means is they fight the American government’s insistence on imposing Christian values on non-Christians.
America was founded on the separation of church and state, yet government buildings have shrines dedicated to the ten commandments, and United States’ currency has the words “In God We Trust,” written on it. At one point, an interview subject states the Christian right are imposing their version of Sharia law on American citizens. People don’t bite their tongue in this doc. Interviewees dive in to discussions about religion and politics with little regard for moral outrage.
The Satanic Temple’s uses Satan as a counterpoint to Christian iconography. Despite what most people think, the practitioners don’t believe in a life of evil. They do champion religious pluralism in their secular country. And in the ultimate act of trolling, the film sees them go through the process of erecting a Baphomet statue on government property. Lane’s film captures the Temple’s rising influence as well as the pushback from folks who see the organization as pure evil.
Anyone who looks past their preconceptions and spends five-minutes researching who these Satan worshippers are will be in for a surprise. They’re not dark, broody, and scary. Quite the opposite. As we meet the film’s cast of characters Lane deflates any sense of menace by scoring their introductions to marching band music. It creates a Curb Your Enthusiasm vibe. And seeing balding middle-aged men walking around in cloaks and goat horns while speaking like Dunder Mifflin employees seems ripped out of a Buffy episode.
Lane makes the case why it’s laughable that the media spends so much time attacking Satanism. The majority of the doc’s media outrage clips come from Fox News. And it speaks to how far Fox News is willing to go to capitalize on fear-mongering and outrage culture.
Hail Satan? Is about as light and funny as a political documentary can be in this day and age. At 95-minutes long the film breezes by. It’s still a meaty enough watch and instills a solid understanding of the Satanic Temple, its values, and its growing appeal, without feeling like a chore. No matter your religious affiliations or political leanings, Hail Satan? is an excellent conversation starter.
While religious conservatives won’t agree, the Satanic Temple’s worshippers behave like good-natured trolls. And nothing sums up who they are better than the footage Lane closes out the film with. As the final credits roll, we see one of the temple’s many volunteer committees in action on the side of the Arizona I-10 highway, picking up garbage armed with the most devilish tools imaginable: pitchforks.
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