I’m not what you would call a religious person. I did attend Catholic schools when I was younger but I haven’t been to church in over 10 years. There are aspects of religion that are intriguing though and religion has become more prevalent in politics in recent years, particularly with the prominence of the Christian right in America. In response to this, the Satanic Temple has risen to counteract the efforts of the Christian right and I have been fascinated by what the Satanic Temple has been doing. So when I heard about this documentary, I was intrigued and, when I got the chance to see it, I jumped at it, and I found this to be an equal parts hilarious and moving look at modern Satanism.
The film focuses on the efforts of the Satanic Temple to preserve the idea of separation of church and state, through acts of protest against efforts to install Christian iconography in American political environments. Of particular focus are the 10 Commandments statues installed on the grounds of the State Capitol grounds of Oklahoma and Arkansas. The film is intended to show the hypocrisy of the Christian right extolling religious freedom and demanding laws allowing their religious freedom but denying the religious freedom of others, arguing that, if you allow one religion to become dominant in the political sphere, you open the door for other religions, and showing how what the Christian right deems as dangerous when they claim it is done in the name of Islam (see the panic of the Christian right about Sharia Law), they deem to be fine when done in the name of Christianity. The film shows how Christianity has been co-opted by the right wing since the 50s, when it was used as a tool of the Red Panic and even how Christianity has been co-opted by other organisations for profit, with the 10 Commandments statues being based on marketing material for the 1956 version of Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.
The main goal of the film is to show the beliefs and workings of the Satanic Temple and I think the film does this really well, bringing up the idea of what exactly Satanism means in the 21st Century, with the goals of the Satanic Temple being to see themselves as an adversary to the dominance of right wing Christian hegemony, viewing this role as the expression of their Satanism. An interesting element of the film is how I found myself agreeing with the central tenants of the Satanic Temple, especially when they are directly stated at the end of the film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people did join the Satanic Temple after seeing the film. This is also helped by how funny the film is, with the interviews done with members of the Satanic Temple and the clips from their protests and news interviews highlighting their skill in marketing and how they delight in making the Christian Right make fools out of themselves and I was roaring with laughter throughout the film.
Even though the film is hilarious, it doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of the church and how the world views Satanism. There is a stretch of the film that focuses on the Satanic Panic of the 80s and how things like Dungeons and Dragons and heavy metal music were used to scapegoat people as Satanists and how people had their lives ruined by being described as Satanists because of this. Whilst I wanted the film to go into a bit more detail with this, particularly with reference to the West Memphis Three, the way the level of focus the film gave was right for the tone that was aimed for. The film also shows the darker side of some members of the Satanic Temple and how the leadership needs to ensure that these darker aspects are hidden so that they can show the Satanic Temple as a peaceful organisation, in particular kicking out a member that used a Satanic service to call for the assassination of Donald Trump. Through this, we also see how the wider world views the Satanic Temple as inherently evil, with death threats being sent to members of the Satanic Temple, showing the limits people have towards religious tolerance when it’s not their religion.
Overall, I found Hail Satan? to be a brilliant documentary, doing a great job at highlighting the work and philosophy of the Satanic Temple, whilst also showing the darker aspects of Satanism and how the world views Satanism. This is a great mix of pathos and humour and a highly recommended documentary.
My Rating: 5/5