REVIEW: Hail Satan? [2019]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: R | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: April 17th, 2019 (USA)
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Director(s): Penny Lane

“Very quickly everything got real”

There’s subjectively no greater terrorist threat to America than Evangelical Christians. At their side is Catholicism: itself an extremist branch of Christianity shouldering centuries of blood and abuse on its hands spanning genocide, murder, rape, and child abuse. It’s these Christian zealots who yell that Muslims are bringing Sharia Law to our country with no basis in fact besides fear-mongering propaganda propagated by government officials rejecting the Constitution’s secular tenets for those of God’s Ten Commandments. They have spent so much energy vilifying other groups (Pro-Life, LGBT, etc.) for no other reason than to shine the light away from their own transgressions and in turn prop themselves up as a voice of integrity and purity. They indoctrinate and radicalize with a false sense of superiority safeguarded by absolution.

This hypocrisy that the Catholic Church wields as its foundation is a large part of why I haven’t practiced since my days as a child working towards First Communion (if I actually “practiced” it then too). It’s why so many throughout the world have felt alone while their oppressors hide behind mass delusion rhetoric to declare anyone outside of their cult unfit for Heaven. So it should come as no surprise that a group of just such rebels bucking the status quo and acknowledging the subversion of America’s republic as a bastardized offshoot of one single religion would revolt and take up the name of Catholicism’s antithesis Satan. Because that’s what The Satanic Temple is: a counterpoint embracing their externally bestowed “damnation” as their chosen “salvation.”

Understanding that truth outside of the buzzword phrasing of Evangelical sympathizers that dismiss and sensationalize members of the TST as Devil worshippers is ultimately the crux of Penny Lane‘s documentary Hail Satan? She has approached the religion’s founders (including spokesperson and face of the organization Lucien Greaves) to get to the bottom of their origins, goals, and impact. Her film is thus a platform to cut through the laughter and protests by Christian celebrities that galvanize their ranks when it should expose the hate and entitlement at their back. By providing the facts and surrounding context to the backlash TST endures, Lane is able to let the true villains unmask themselves. The United States was never formed as a Christian nation. Christians have weaponized fear to commandeer it.

Greaves and his now international parish is therefore leading the fight to open the eyes of those who’ve always found the Church’s totalitarian rule unjust. Rather than try to convert the masses a la Catholic missionaries providing charity as a transactional exchange for worship, TST is battling for a return to secularism. They’re refusing to back down from the reality that Republican lawmakers have been dictating terms through the lens of religion at the expense of human dignity, autonomy, and in some cases life. By wielding a non-violent course of action subscribed to their own inalienable rules of conduct, they seek to use the system in order to reveal its flaws and/or point out where it’s gone astray. TST use Christianity’s legal victories as a template for their own.

It’s an ingenious concept that can only be stopped by visible corruption (though you must wonder if America is too far gone to care upon seeing it naked) or themselves. The latter is a real issue considering many members joined TST for the freedom its lack of structure provided as a platform for revolution. While some see the benefit of using the legal system to their advantage by forcing opponents to recognize their rights, others can’t help watching former radicals become that which they rejected. It’s a fine line all rebellions must confront considering winning is an avenue towards transforming one status quo into another. Playing the system isn’t necessarily the same as destroying it and going too far down the second road risks justifying your adversaries’ horror.

We are thus introduced to the intellectualized war fought on behalf of Greaves and the incendiary call to arms gradually coming to the forefront of Jex Blackmore‘s ambitions. They’re complementary halves of one whole until they aren’t. That they exist in tandem, however, is proof TST isn’t the anti-Christian joke Christians believe. It couldn’t be that and still work. This push and pull give it legitimacy simply because of the passion it produces in order to accomplish its goals. The organization is rising above the name-calling to politicize itself in a way that protects everyone from the tyranny of an infestation of Christian rule. The more they’re mislabeled as the Devil, the more they engage the community and literally save lives through fundraising, programs, and activism.

Lane expertly weaves an underlying battle between Greaves and Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert (the latter is erecting a Ten Commandments statue on state grounds so the former seeks to place a companion Baphomet to offset the religious implications such a move presents to the separation of church and state) with insightful interviews of members and damning information on behalf of historians that proves just how absurd Christians’ call for piety has become. “Dungeons & Dragons”, the Cold War, the media’s “Satanic panic” of the 1980s, and Cecil B. DeMille all play a role in how we’ve gotten to our current unrest. That The Satanic Temple would rise to combat it through charged blasphemy to spotlight America’s hypocrisy is thus as unlikely an outcome as it is perfect.


photography:
[1] Lucien Greaves delivering a speech in front of the state capitol building in Little Rock, AR in HAIL SATAN?, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[2] Preparations for a TST “Grey Faction” protest event featured in HAIL SATAN?, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[3] Jex Blackmore in her office in Detroit in HAIL SATAN?, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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