Evoking the name Satan freaks people out. Its mere mention conjures up images of the daisy-chain of damnation: pitch forks, hellfire and eternal suffering. A new documentary, “Hail Satan?” from director and Satanic Temple member Penny Lane, takes a different tact, presenting Old NIck not as an evil fallen angel but as the ultimate rebel, more wily than wicked.
The film focusses on the creation and antics of the Satanic Temple as they advocate for religious freedom in a series of increasingly audacious media stunts, including sponsoring an eight-foot-tall statue of satanic goat god Baphomet in front of the Arkansas Capitol building.
Begun basically as a troll group by media-savvy culture warrior Lucien Greaves, the group sought to upend the notion of the United States as a solely Christian nation. With slogans like “Satanism is patriotism” they hope to rebrand Satanism as more concerned with grassroots activism than unleashing holy hell on the world. In fact, they don’t worship the devil or even believe such an entity exists.
The quest for separation of church and state, comes with speed bumps. Opposition from traditionally minded politicians, protests and even death threats dog Greaves and company from the outside. A rogue member—who calls for the execution of Donald Trump—causes trouble from the inside.
“Hail Satan?” has a surprisingly light touch. Lane, obviously a fan of the group’s work, takes a playful tone, mining the inherent audacity of the Satanic Temple’s actions—wearing giant devil horns in media interviews, giggling their way through their “Hail, Satan” ceremonies and generally pushing people’s buttons—for all its entertainment value. More interestingly it humanizes the temple’s followers as outsiders more concerned with fundamental human rights, exposing religious hypocrisy and social justice than dark magic.