Provocative in an important way, this cautionary if hilariously satirical documentary emphasises the need to be open to understanding minority groups in pluralistic, secular countries.
Dir. Penny Lane
2019 | USA | Documentary | 95 mins | 1.85:1 | English
Not rated – likely R21 with cuts or restrictions
Plot: A look at the quick rise and influence of the controversial religious group known as The Satanic Temple.
Awards: Nom. for Grand Jury Prize – Documentary (Sundance); Nom. for Big Screen Award (Rotterdam)
International Sales: Magnolia Pictures
Subject Matter: Mature/Provocative
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Niche
It is easy to dismiss this documentary as dangerous to society. But it is not, however provocative it may be—that question mark in the title is crucial to understanding why this is an important film to see.
Centering on The Satanic Temple (TST), director Penny Lane seeks to dissect what they do, and what comes out of it is revealing of the ills of sociopolitical thinking.
The Temple’s principle is simple and direct—they oppose authority, particularly authorities that seek to control policies and laws based on domineering Christian beliefs. Members of the Temple help minority groups to find their voices; they also challenge laws that are not secular.
They believe that in a pluralistic country like the US, the need to be open to understanding minority groups is essential to building a more empathetic and cohesive society, where no one religion should dictate how people should live.
“The Satanic Temple was an idea between a handful of people directly confronting authority.”
There is a lot of food-for-thought in Lane’s fourth feature documentary that strives for satirical counterpoint, such as her use of ‘Hallelujah’ in scenes of TST’s ‘Satanic rituals’, and black metal songs in traditional Christian scene-settings.
Largely compelling, Hail Satan? is a cautionary work about the danger of imposing one’s own values on others. My own country is no stranger to examples of these sort, with the authorities banning or censoring books, movies, plays, gigs, etc. just because an offended person complained.
Is this not the real threat to society—that there is a cult of self-righteous people operating under the guise of Christian values that dictate what we should or should not do?
So how do we tackle this as a secular society? Well, TST’s idea is to operate in figurative counterpoint, to use abstraction and symbols that are sensational and strike fear… quite literally, and hilariously if I may add.
So instead of asking why hail Satan, perhaps we should ask ourselves: why not?