The best documentaries shine a light on maligned or misrepresented groups of people in order to show us what they are all about, and director Penny Lane does just that in ‘Hail Satan?‘
The film focuses on The Satanic Temple, a nontheistic religious group founded in 2013 which uses the symbolism of satanism and grassroots activism to combat the encroachment of evangelical Christianity into the supposedly secular government in America.
The centerpiece of the film is a dispute over the erection of a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol. The satanic response to which is to legally oppose the unconstitutional blending of church and state and propose the construction of an 8-foot tall statue of the demon Baphomet next to the ten commandments, purely in the interests of religious plurality and equal representation of course.
Naturally, the Baphomet statue and a lot of the actions taken by The Satanic Temple are done for shock value, a goal they frequently achieve as the incredulous and often blindly furious reactions of the right-wing media and fundamentalist Christians peppered throughout the film will attest.
The Satanist’s activism takes many less audacious forms over the course of the film however, ranging from picking up litter, collecting socks and sanitary products for the homeless to counter-protesting the hateful Westboro Baptist Church and pro-life demonstrators in front of abortion clinics. These and other good works, including supporting marriage equality and reproductive rights for women cannot be overlooked and The Satanic Temple’s progressive tenets attract a diverse range of followers whose stories about finding a place to belong are genuinely heartwarming.
These relatable outcast characters are at the heart of what makes Hail Satan? an entertaining documentary. Of particular note is the dry but determined Lucien Greaves, the co-founder and spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, the antagonist and unfortunately named Senator Jason Rapert who is behind the controversial ten commandments monument, and the fiery Jex Blackmoore whose radical rhetoric is enough to get her kicked out of a group of Satanists.
Ultimately, despite it’s often light-hearted tone, Hail Satan? raises a lot of important issues especially concerning the worrying encroachment of religion into matters of government in America while somewhat surprisingly showing the value of religion as a place where even those rejected by traditional society can find belonging and a worthwhile code of ethics to live by showing us that even those who walk the left-hand path can be in the right.