Jex Blackmore in her office in Detroit. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
For all of history, Satanism has been viewed as an evil religion comprised of devil worshippers, baby killers, and sacrificial rituals – views that caused moral panic and hysteria that set the world ablaze. The real face of Satanism today – The Satanic Temple – prove the myths couldn’t be further from the truth. They might wear a lot of black, troll conservatives with offensive gestures, and enjoy anarchy, but the main goals of the group are founded upon tenets that the average person would find morally sound. With a focus on female reproductive rights, LGBT activism, and anti-establishment sentiment, Satanists choose to worship themselves instead of a god, they believe in no deity – only what they represent symbolically.
How do I know about these people? Well, I was probably one step away from a membership card in my youth. I may not identify as a Satanist now, but the things that attracted me in my youth remain things I admire. For anyone that already knew The Satanic Temple’s true nature, the wrong perception illustrated by Christians and far-right politicians won’t be anything new, but for fresh-faced and open-minded people looking to deep dive into a new subject, Penny Lane’s documentary is just the ticket.
Hail Satan?‘s tone is best represented by the “?” in its title. The film isn’t telling you to worship Satan, nor is it trying to scare or make you see those who participate in Satanism as weirdos. It’s a question, like, should we? Maybe? Why not? It’s an explorative and curious project that is satisfyingly sensical and full of logical people. The edge of the humor in the film is delightful; it plays off the cringe-filled Satanism infomercials from decades past and revels in the discomfort of the religion’s objectifiers. There’s also a self-awareness in the filming of the actual Temple and its members, with sharp cuts and memorable characters representing the diverse pool of people who have joined since the Church’s original inception.
Hail Satan? for the most part follows Lucien Greaves, the spokesperson and co-founder of the Temple, as he fights to get the Temple’s 7ft tall Baphomet statue placed beside a statue of the ten commandments on the grounds of Oklahoma’s State Capitol. The legal battle is integrated into the film but thankfully never takes over, instead, it unravels in the background as we receive updates – revealing the hypocrisy and bias of the law in favor of Christianity. This topic is one of the many things Lane tackles with haste, and she pulls no punches when it comes to letting the members express their discontent and annoyance at the status quo, and how it affects them.
The most sincere quality of the documentary comes from the supporting players, trans women, gay people, and loners that have found a sense of belonging. Although there are certainly more extreme members such as Jex Blackmore ( eventually removed as one of the Temple’s most public figureheads after implying she wanted Donald Trump to be executed), most are soft-spoken, clearly smart people looking for a community which shares their beliefs. These are men and women who feel rejected by other faiths and now spend their time rallying for each other’s rights.
Penny Lane’s sharp and well-edited Hail Satan? is on the side of logic and reason, for that alone, it’s well worth your time. Come for the unique subject material, stay for the trolling of the Westboro Baptist Church.
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