Hail Satan? (2019)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

USA, 2019Hard Working Movies.  Cinematography by Naiti Gámez.  Produced by Gabriel Sedgwick.  Music by Brian McOmber.  Film Editing by Amy Foote, Aaron WickendenNorth Carolina Film Critics Awards 2019.

One nation under God is put to the test with the rising power of The Satanic Temple, an organization that plays at provoking religious fundamentalism with its blaspheme-centered energy but is actually, it seems, aiming to remind the country of its supposed separation of church and state.  This bouncy, fun documentary flirts with objectifying the members of the activist group as curious and humorous fools but never actually does, instead watching as they follow Lucien Greaves into a number of potentially explosive situations armed with confidence in their knowledge of the law.  Christians frequently protest the Temple’s activities, be it black masses or their wanting to erect statues of devilish deities on government lands, but the members of the Temple, which has grown to include chapters all around the world, remain firm in their desire to point out the hypocrisy of America’s moral majority: it was never meant to be a Christian nation and all efforts to stamp out the Temple’s public presence constitutes a rejection of the pluralism that this democracy was meant to stand for, instead advocating for Christian domination of the nation.  As a viewer you find yourself wondering, of course, if images of Lucifer are necessary to put this point across, the group enjoys their provocation as much as they feel passion for justice, but given how easy their opponents are to provoke (mostly because of their refusal to examine their beliefs or withstand any criticism of it), it’s hard to blame them for having a little too much fun with their style of presentation.  Unfortunately, with the forming of an organization also come internal setbacks, you can’t gather a group of people determined to be outsiders without them eventually splintering into their own version of In-crowd and rejects, and with the rise in legitimacy come the rules and principles that result in rebels (in this case Detroit chapter leader Jex Blackmore, who is deemed too extreme for head office).  The clever plotting includes effective and intelligent looks back at the historic moments that created the atmosphere for both this religious extremism (that an increasingly secular country was scared back into God-fearing fervour by the nuclear age in the fifties) and their fear of this group in particular (the Satanic panic of the eighties).  Moving through a great deal of material with swift glee, Lane’s film works as an indictment on the religious citizens of a country who say they stand up for what is right and decent and yet it’s the members of the Satanic Temple who have to wear bulletproof vests in public.

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