Penny Lane’s head-spinning documentary charts the rise of The Satanic Temple.
In the midst of the United States’ regression into the appeasement of deranged right-wing Evangelicals, Penny Lane’s latest documentary
couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The film documents the history and background of The Satanic Temple, a movement born from brash, tongue-in-cheek activism, interviewing members of the church as they detail its evolution into a full-fledged community.
Known for its counter protests against right-wing Christian lobbyists, the group gained notoriety for demanding that a statue of Baphomet be erected next to a proposed statue of the Ten Commandments on government property. As Lane speaks to leader of the Temple Lucien Greaves, as well as various other members of the church, it’s clear that she doesn’t need to place emphasis on the diversity of the Temple versus the hegemony of their devout detractors. We can see that for ourselves – many of the talking heads being LGBT and people of colour.
In the film’s opening moments Lane immediately dispels the notion that Satanism is simple occultism or devil worship, highlighting the clever, funny people behind the movement – one that idolises Satan as a symbol of rebellion against an oppressive establishment. Most of the members are shown as the good-natured, good-humoured people they are.
After all, this is a group that decided to base their first headquarters in Salem, and then spray-painted the whole thing black. The interviews and on-the-ground footage are the film’s greatest asset, as Lane’s use of archive often alternates between informative and obvious, coupled with a soundtrack that tries a little too hard to sell the absurdity of the events being documented.
Lane makes a point of putting the hypocrisy of the Christians trying to establish an idol of worship (in defiance of both their own beliefs and the American constitution) in full view, but could stand to be a little more introspective about the Satanist Temple itself. Late in the film introduces and soon drops an interesting complication as a former member suggests that the Temple is on its way to becoming the very kind of institution it would rebel against.
Still, it’s hard not to be convinced when the opposition is so clearly out of its mind – the measured, concise thinking of each Satanist Temple member contrasted by footage of oppressive lunacy from right-wing Christian lobbyists, shown picketing abortion clinics, spreading deceit and threatening violence in multiple circumstances against the peaceful demonstrations of The Satanic Temple, as the group disrupts their attempts to assert control over their districts.
Hail Satan? is a worthwhile challenge to default ideals of organised religion, turning images branded as traditional evil into an embodiment of freedom and pluralism and allowing members of a movement usually demonised or mocked to define themselves in their own. It’s assured and enlightening filmmaking, if not all that surprising, and maybe too cute by half with some of its formal choices (‘Satan Never Sleeps’ plays over the credits).
As one-sided as it may be, it stands as a good reminder of the restrictions and grotesquery of right-wing evangelism, and the indispensability of protest and rebellion.