Few words carry as much weight as Satanism. No matter their personal belief system, images and colors will come to a person’s mind when they hear the term. Hail Satan? is a 2019 documentary that covers the history of The Satanic Temple and the battles they have fought. Surprisingly funny, very engaging, and even a little infuriating, it will shock many viewers in ways not expected.
Founded in 2013, The Satanic Temple does not have anything to do with the worship of Satan. The Temple are more of a political group that supports equality and separation of church and state. This is a running theme throughout the film. The Temple have spent entirety of their existence trying to overturn what they see as unconstitutional actions.
Director Penny Lane is able to do convey this in a way that is humorous without ever downplaying the importance of TST’s message. When the group was first founded, it was more of a prank than a serious call to action. In Florida, the newly formed Temple supported Governor Rick Scott’s bill to make student led prayer legal in schools. Their logic was since these prayers would be legal, young Satanists would have a place to pray.
Things would continue in this shock the media publicity stunt manner (the Pink Mass involving the Westboro Church is one of the funniest parts of Hail Satan?) for about a year. After an incident in Boston with the Catholic Church, TST became more serious. Their goals became more clearly defined and their methods were more organized. Unsurprisingly, this led to people from around the world joining.
Hail Satan? does an excellent job of showcasing its main characters. This is mainly done through talking head segments that are typical of documentaries. Lane does an excellent job of not introducing too many characters. The majority of Satanists introduced have something different to add. This is not just a case of people talking about why they want to rebel (though there is some of that). There are also stories of belonging, fighting for the greater good, and just having a sense of community. This adds life to people who would otherwise just be a silly name. (I do not care how positive what you are fighting for is. If you unironically introduce yourself as “Skullcrusher” I will not take you seriously. That being said, TST’s origins are based in trolling, so…)
There is also a some excellent foreshadowing in Hail Satan? The documentary does a great job of showing how nonviolent the organization is. They work within the confines of the law and even have an after school program to teach kids how to think critically. Interspersed between all the good deeds are shown the actions of a chapter. It acts more like one would associate with Satanism. Nudity, pigs’ heads, and rituals are just a part of what they do. Lane does a great job of subtly setting up a conflict.
The many battles fought by TST are also well covered. The audience gets a good sense of what and why the Temple has decided to take a stand on a certain issue. Nothing seems glossed over or rushed but there are a couple of times where the end result is unclear. There is a case in Missouri that is mentioned with even parts of the court case being shown. No resolution is ever seen. The movie also ends abruptly.
Hail Satan? is an interesting and funny documentary that provides a deep look into The Satanic Temple. The subjects are in on the joke while still seriously and intelligently speaking about what they believe in. As humorous as the film can get, it is also an unflinching look at modern America. The title may seem like it is just there to shock, but this is a story worth going out of your way to see.