Satirically Upsetting: Our Review of ‘Hail Satan?’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - May 03, 2019
Satirically Upsetting: Our Review of ‘Hail Satan?’

It’s important on occasion to flip the script and ensure genuine equality.

Hail Satan? is a deftly smart documentary that looks at the right of separation of church and state through the eyes of an organization that you just wouldn’t expect.

When media-savvy members of the Satanic Temple organize a series of public actions designed to advocate for religious freedom and challenge corrupt authority, they prove that with little more than a clever idea, a mischievous sense of humor, and a few rebellious friends, you can speak truth to power in some truly profound ways.

Social commentary comes in some really unique ways and with director Penny Lane’s latest Hail Satan? she allows us to see not only the insidious influence of religion on matters of state but also the general intolerance from those who profess to be the most tolerant.

Penny Lane has a track record of using humor to tell her stories and she uses it pretty deftly without resulting to anything that might hammer us over the head.  She lets her narrative flow rather smartly and the subjects tell the story.  This film could have easily slid into territory that plays overly serious or overly goofy but Lane tows a fine line.  The subjects here are the ones who dictate the tone from beginning to end and while us witnessing the shock tactics from the Satanic Temple get a little tiring throughout the film, it’s very clear that this isn’t a film about people and their religion.  It’s a film about making sure people’s religion stays out of everyone’s face.

Satan and Devil worship just isn’t the point of any of this which is where not only the film’s strengths but its flaws lie as well.  The shock value of using the Satanic Temple to combat Catholic ideologies that are creeping into government is wickedly smart but not having the film dive a little more into actually satanic belief and worship detracts from the story a little bit but that’s OK.  This isn’t a deep dive on belief structures but I would have loved if the film had gone a little deeper on why this group chose Satan rather than the quote the rings through this movie which is “Well, you’ve got to believe in something?”

And that’s the real question mark in Hail Satan? because as intelligently as director Penny Lane takes us through the issues that are at play in this story it just felt like we needed more of a straight line through it all.  The film plays in the grey areas that the Satanic Temple is using to deliver their message to challenge corrupt authorities but almost a little too much.  It’s funny as they fight for equal religious rights, but also upsetting on so many more levels as they confront far too many people who actually think that they are calling for the rise of a new hell on earth.  If anything it’s the Satanic Temple members who are doing far more to better our world then the religious right who want to oppress them.

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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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