Thursday, May 2, 2019

Movie Review: "Hail Satan?" (2019)

Hail Satan? is a 2019 American documentary film about The Satanic Temple, including its origins and grassroots political activism. Directed by Penny Lane, the film premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was released in the United States on April 19, 2019, distributed by Magnolia Pictures. The film shows Satanists working to preserve the separation of Church and State against the perceived privilege of the Christian right.

Lane wanted to combat the widespread view of the Satanic Panic of the 1970s through 1990s, during which Satanists were described as rapists and murderers, usually of children. She described the editing for the film occurred in approximately six months, "concurrent with the bulk of shooting." She made the conscious decision to leave out known details about inner conflict within the organization and external criticisms from other Satanists. After completion of editing, Lane joined The Satanic Temple as a member.

It should be noted that The Satanic Temple is a political activist group based in Salem, Massachusetts and should not be confused with other Satanic organizations, such as the more famous Church of Satan founded by Anton Szandor LaVey in 1966. The Church of Satan expresses vehement opposition to the campaigns and activities of The Satanic Temple, asserting themselves as the only “true” arbiters of Satanism, while The Satanic Temple dismisses the Church of Satan as irrelevant and inactive. The Satanic Temple, founded in 2013, has become the primary religious Satanic organization in the world, with chapters internationally, and a number of high-profile public campaigns designed to preserve and advance secularism and individual liberties. Though neither believes in an actual Satan nor in God for that matter, one distinguishing factor is that the Church of Satan believes in magic while The Satanic Temple does not and is purely secular. Unlike the Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple has a physical headquarters with weekly congregations in Salem, Massachusetts, and numerous regularly congregating chapters throughout the world. The Church of Satan asserts that “true Satanism” is apolitical and focuses on individualism.

With this being said, Hail Satan? is a provocative film that does a good job disseminating its own propaganda, and is well made and compelling. No doubt they have made news in the past few years, most of which is chronicled in the documentary, therefore it is good to get their perspective on these stories detached from the media. In the viewing I attended of the film, probably half the audience were Satanists, and they seemed to be very happy with it, while some young people expressed their agreement with Satanism, to their surprise. However, the silliness of the The Satanic Temple is displayed in this film, even while they try to take themselves somewhat seriously, though even they know they are hoodwinking people by making themselves to appear as a religious organization, for which they recently received tax-exempt status, despite their profession of being non-religious. It is interesting however when at one point they excommunicate a member when she publicly advocates for the assassination of President Donald Trump. Moreover, most of the members seem to be disgruntled people who without this organization lived very lonely and isolated lives, and The Satanic Temple serves as a quasi-religion to them which they seem to long for.

Basically, it is a group that advocates for the complete secularization of the United States through the provocation of Satanic imagery in order to rile the religious right. In some cases they make good points, and their criticisms of Christian fundamentalism are often valid, but the documentary does not allow any opposing views to be heard, unless it serves their purpose by mocking the opposition.