The title card of Penny Lane’s documentary on the Satanic Temple “Hail Satan?” waits a beat before presenting the question mark, and these opening seconds set an inquisitive tone for the rest of the documentary. What follows is a dissection and examination of the inner workings of the Satanic Temple as well as how the outside world views it.
The documentary follows Lucien Greaves, spokesman and co-founder of the Satanic Temple. We follow him around the group’s headquarters: a painted black Victorian mansion in Salem, Massachusetts that used to be a funeral home. Hearing Greaves call Satan “the original troll” and seeing the “f-ck Donald Trump” sticker on his phone while he’s calling a friend creates a stark contrast to the dramatic, red, fiery popular vision of Satan.
By immediately introducing viewers to the people behind the organization popularly known for Satanic rituals, the documentary brings the subject and viewer even closer together. The honest and expertly crafted film creates space for exploration of the basic Satanic beliefs: the need for religious plurality and the separation of church and state.
The documentary is loosely structured around confrontations between the temple and government officials of various states. In one such conflict, Arkansas placed a statue of the Ten Commandments on government property. The Satanic Temple, in a move favoring religious equality over Christian supremacy, then donated a statue to be placed next to the Christian token. The statue it offered is of Baphomet, an evil deity also known as the “Sabbatic Goat,” sitting on a throne next to a boy and girl smiling and looking up to him. This move directly challenged legislators to uphold the First Amendment, forcing them to either place the Baphomet statue beside the Ten Commandments or removing the latter from government property.
In a montage set to “Send the Light,” a hymn which includes lyrics such as “send the light, the blessed gospel light,” we see the construction of the statues which includes pictures of Iggy Pop and 3-D renderings of the children’s smiles. There are other moments like these in which Lane seems to almost mock the original use of the Christian hymns, and her bias toward the Satanic Temple is blatant. Moreover, Lane does not offer criticism or counterarguments to the temple’s actions.
In addition to exploring the temple’s current activism, the documentary also delves into the historical context of its activism, primarily focusing on explaining that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation. Instead, the religious mindset of the U.S. originates from the Red Scare, during which Communism was equated to Satanism. To oppose Communism, Americans had to adapt and become uncompromising Christians. This is the understanding behind the temple’s activism, which combats religious intolerance and prevents theocracy from creeping further into the justice system.
“Hail Satan?” is a slightly biased but thought-provoking and visually captivating inquiry into the workings of those who embrace their Satanic status as outsiders, reminding viewers that it’s impossible to dismantle corrupt systems while actively participating in them.
Email Yaroslava Bondar at [email protected]