The Satanists in Hail Satan? don’t actually worship the devil, but it’d be a lot cooler if they did. Instead of ritualistic blood sacrifices and black magick, the Satanic Temple has set its sights on doing political and social good. When a statue of the Ten Commandments is to be erected on the grounds of a state capitol, the temple lobbies for a statue of Baphomet to be erected in the name of religious pluralism. When the Westboro Baptist church or anti-choice organizations stage a demonstration, the temple counter-demonstrates with extravagant mockery. A Black Mass in this context is less about appeasing an unholy deity and more about the pageantry and a symbolic rejection of the political power of the Christian right. In short, spokesperson Lucien Greaves and his cohorts at the now international Satanic Temple are trolls, using the name of Satan to piss off Christians and prove a point. But rarely has trolling seemed so noble. You only need to see the Confederate flags and “Diversity Is Genocidal” t-shirts of Christian protestors to get a sense of who the good guys are.
Without extended discourse or much in the way of response, both the Satanic Temple and the film come off as surprisingly milquetoast in their liberal politics.
Director Penny Lane structures her film around several key incidents in the short history of The Satanic Temple, walking through the planning, execution and media backlash of each demonstration. The members of the temple, presented here as talking heads, are generally affable, good natured folks who lend an easy-going sense of fun to most of the film. But in returning to media backlash time and again, the film starts to feel remedial. It’s always a joy to watch indignant right wingers freak out, but anyone could guess how Fox News pundits would react to the temple. It’s unfortunate that their reactions are baked into the structure of the film at the expense of more compelling conflicts that are only given brief acknowledgement. More time is given to the creation of the Baphomet sculpture than to the ousting of the Detroit chapter head over her radical views, an incident which could provide insight into the organization’s principles but is instead only briefly touched upon. Without extended discourse or much in the way of response, both the Satanic Temple and the film come off as surprisingly milquetoast in their liberal politics. And while Hail Satan? wants to make the case that the temple’s tactics are effective, small victories like an end to prayer before city council meetings can’t help but feel trivial in 2019 when the world’s on fire.
You can currently stream Penny Lane’s Hail Satan? on Hulu.