Hail Satan?

 

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Meet a body that seeks to overturn the image of Satan as an evil figure.

 
Hail Satan
 

Penny Lane's film is undoubtedly informative. Until I saw it, I was totally unaware of the existence of the body known as The Satanic Temple. It was founded in Salem in 2013 and many in this country will share my ignorance despite the fact that, after just three years and with chapters springing up right across America, it could claim a membership of 50,000. Hail Satan? gives a platform to its co-founders Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry and we hear too from a host of its members including Jex Blackmore who would eventually be cast out due to her advocacy of strong violence.

 

Although an historian appears to fill us in on the history of Satanism, we are invited to see The Satanic Temple as something quite other. Its very name suggests a cult that not only believes in Satan but worships him and that would fit neatly enough with its adoption of rituals including the cries of 'Hail Satan' as a salutation and the setting up of a black mass in Catholic Boston. Nevertheless, what is claimed here is that The Satanic Temple regard Satan as a figure of rebellion and thus supportive of their own liberal stance in opposing fundamental Christianity over its attitudes to such matters as abortion and LGBT+ issues. To prove that TST members are good people we even have footage illustrating their eagerness to help the homeless, to give blood and to clean up litter.

 

Even so, the behaviour of TST members on view here is often odd enough to encourage viewers to laugh (for example, to assert equal rights for all they set up an After School Satan Club for young kids!) and the hostility expressed by religious extremists will provoke further amusement not least from adamant non-believers. However, a film that often seems quite deliberately to invite laughter becomes increasingly serious given the views expressed. Thus we find TST challenging the notion that America, a country which has its bank notes endorsed with the words 'In God We Trust', should truly be seen as primarily Christian. In taking a stand against Christian Supremacy, this film is at its most ironic when revealing that the many stones to be seen across America with the ten commandments inscribed on them actually stem from Paramount's publicity for Cecil B. De Mille's 1956 film.

Hail Satan

 

All of this is interesting, but Hail Satan? is content to rely on its surface appeal, be that comic or serious. What we needed was a film that delved deeper. We learn that Greaves doesn't use his real name so we never discover who he really is, this man who declares on the subject of TST that "This is my life's work". In contrast to that, one man regards atheism as dull but TST is said to be "fun". Putting up a statue of the goat-demon Baphomet at a rally underlines the bizarre nature of this cult; the need to expel Jex Blackmore for her extremism points to the kind of people who can be attracted to such a movement. One may support many of their declared aims but their approach, attractive as it is to people who appear to be weirdos, could be dangerous. Nothing in Penny Lane's film seems to recognise that the subject matter here calls for an investigative film prepared to go deep.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Lucien Greaves, Jex Blackmore, Malcolm Jarry, Jesper Aagard Petersen, Jay D. Wexler, Sadie Satanas, Kym LaRoux, Lynita Killen, William Morrison, Michelle Shortt, Chalice Blythe.

 

Dir Penny Lane, Pro Gabriel Sedgwick, Ph Naiti Gámez, Ed Amy Foote and Aaron Wickerden, Music Brian McOmber.

 

Magnolia Pictures/Hard Working Movies/Chicken & Egg Pictures-Dogwoof.
95 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 23 August 2019. Cert. 15.