The documentary ‘Hail Satan?’ triggers heaping doses of curiosity and anxiety
Directed by: Penny Lane
Starring: Lucien Greaves and Jex Blackmore
“Hail Satan?” – It’s January 2013 in Tallahassee, Fla., and a man lounges in a living room during the middle of the day and calls a local ABC affiliate about a state capital rally by The Satanic Temple.
The Satanic Temple?
Two women sit close by, but the camera cuts to another man walking upstairs dressed in a black cape and hefty goat horns protruding from his head. One of the women then draws “I love Satan” (with a heart sketched in place of the word “love”) on white poster board.
Admittedly, that particular moment of director Penny Lane’s documentary purposely feels like a surreal comedy, something out of “What We Do in the Shadows” (2014), because what exactly is happening here?
“Hail Satan?” is not a mockumentary. Not at all, and The Satanic Temple is a sincere organization. Still, ordinary people in polite society making matter-of-fact comments about satanic demonstrations – with probably grocery shopping or kids’ soccer practice also shoehorned into the day – can catch moviegoers off-guard and deliver heaping doses of curiosity and anxiety with a pinch of skepticism.
As the rest of Lane’s intriguing work plays out over 95 minutes, skepticism quickly disappears, curiosity rises and anxiety falls, although not completely.
Lucien Greaves is completely all-in with The Satanic Temple. He is the co-founder of the international group out of Salem, Mass., but in just a few years, several other chapters form, including ones in Santa Cruz, Chicago, Atlanta, and also Arizona.
Soft-spoken, gracious and unassuming, Greaves took the mantle of spokesperson, because he “wanted to be sure that Satanism was properly represented.”
Well, Lane captures b-roll of some bizarre occult-like ceremonies in which nude women choke on red wine, nude men place pig heads on stakes and others sport pentagrams on their midriffs, while various speakers and onlookers cheer, “Hail Satan!”
These images, however, tell a small portion of The Satanic Temple’s story and Greaves’ vision, as its members frequently dive into political issues and confront religious organizations that blur the lines between church and state. Without jumping into the specifics (in order to avoid spoiling the film’s surprises), they peacefully argue their political viewpoints in Little Rock, Phoenix and other spots around the country. The Satanic Temple does craft controversies and cause caustic uproars, due to its name and beliefs and also the members’ physical appearances. Opposing reactions seem to be universal. Just imagine…
These fundamental and very public disagreements frequently become awkward and entertaining, as two very different viewpoints face one another in the same physical spaces. Additionally, for those who disdain the push of religion into the public sectors (like in school classrooms or on state government property), you might find yourself siding with the Satanists, especially when confronted with a binary choice.
For those who embrace religion within our government institutions, “Hail Satan?” is not your movie, but everyone can learn a lot about modern-day Satanism through the Temple’s community activism and Lane’s one-on-one interviews with its accessible supporters who follow The Seven Tenets.
In fact, The Satanic Temple’s first tenant says, “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.”
That sounds awfully positive. This is coming from a satanic organization, right? Yes, and cue curiosity and anxiety again and again.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.