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“Hail Satan?” Presents A Whole New Look At An Unusual Religion

Documentaries about religious groups tend to be either exposés or propaganda. Rarely do you get an even handed look at a religion and what they’re setting out to achieve. However, Hail Satan? and The Satanic Temple is hardly your average religion. This documentary seeks to shed a light on the goals that this group has in mind. They may seem weird, but when you get right down to it, there’s a case to be made that they’re doing more godly work than some of the more traditional religions out there. The doc hits theaters this Friday and is a real curiosity. If it even sounds a bit interesting to you, you should check it out. Plus, it’s actually rather good bit of fun.

The doc is a look at The Satanic Temple, as well as its membership, led by an activist named Lucien Greaves. The various activists/followers/pranksters spend their time seeking religious equality, not necessarily to promote Satan, but to keep Christianity and other such faiths from having a monopoly in the United States of America. They spend plenty of time caring for the poor, protecting human rights, and getting the goat of bible thumpers. A through line is following the effort to match the construction of a statue of the Ten Commandments in states like Arkansas and Oklahoma with one of the demon Baphomet. Through it all, we look at The Satanic Temple with a mix of heart, humor, and more than a bit of moral outrage at other, holier than thou, religions. Penny Lane directs the documentary, with Naiti Gámez providing the cinematography and Brian McOmber composing the score.

Go figure, a charming religion centered on actually protecting basic human rights in America goes by the name of The Satanic Temple. Who knew Satan could be so kind? When you watch this documentary it’s impossible not to feel like this group has a better idea about how to help out their fellow citizen than the other, more long standing ones. Sure, this doc has an angle, but if you agree with the angle, that’s just the way the cinematic cookie crumbles. There’s a case to be made that this film runs a little long and could use a little visual creativity, but that’s just the sort of situation where good is kept from being truly great.

Hail Satan? is really entertaining. The movie is trying to educate and inform, but enjoyment is still a goal of director Penny Lane and company. When you see some of their community engagements as well as a handful of their protests, it’s an excellent mix of activism and entertainment. The quest to have a Baphomet Statue put up, for example, combines those two elements terrifically. Lane knows some will find this all to be ridiculous, so there’s a healthy lightheartedness that permeates some of the even serious moments. It all comes together really nicely, whether you have an interest in The Satanic Temple or not.

This weekend, documentary fans who want to see an unusual subject handled in a clever way would do well to give Hail Satan? a shot. The doc is important, no question about that, but it’s also fun, lively, and will make you think. The title is somewhat of a misdirect, but will undoubtedly help it get some publicity, for better or worse. If non fiction cinema is your jam, this is one not to miss. The documentary genre too often puts out depressing fare in relation to religion. This is a welcome tonic to all of that. Give it a look and see for yourself…

Be sure to check out Hail Satan?, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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