Hail Satan? (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): An amusing documentary on certain Satanists

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I often chuckled while watching “Hail Satan?”, an amusing documentary film about the rise of a group of certain decent (!) Satanists. While they certainly look silly and weird at times with their rather unorthodox religious belief, it is interesting to observe them reaching for social goods as following their own faith, and it is also compelling to watch them eagerly depending the separation of church and state against the religious hypocrisy which has been prevalent in the American society for many years.

At the beginning, we see how the members of the Satanic Temple came to draw the attention of media and public in 2013 via their public endorsement of Rick Scott, a Tea Party Republican politician who was the governor of Florida and, at that time, signed a bill allowing school districts to create policies letting students deliver ‘inspirational messages’ at public events. The members of the Satanic Temple, led by a guy named Lucien Greaves, fully supported Scott because the bill technically allowed more freedom of expression for not only the Christianity but also other religions including, yes, theirs in schools, and they seemed very serious in their public statement.

Many people thought that this was just a satiric public stunt to mock that bill, but the documentary shows us how serious Greaves and his Satanic colleagues have been in their common religious belief. Openly presenting themselves as the worshipers of Satan, they often perform their religious rituals together in their headquarters, and we later hear about how their religion was related to the First Church of Satan, which was mainly represented by its infamous founder Anton LaVey.

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While, as one expert points out, the First Church of Satan was more like a carnival group rather than a religious group, the Satanic Temple is more serious in comparison, though its members are far less evil and demonic than, say, those devil worshipers in “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968). Most of them are pretty nice people on the whole, and they all believe in social justice and personal freedom as also being against any kind of repression and servitude. Sincerely concerned about how the American society has become more dominated by Christianity these days, they are ready to fight against that potentially dangerous trend while arguing for their religious freedom, and it is not so surprising that many of them are ex-Christians who were disillusioned with Christianity in one way or another.

After that amusing moment in Florida, they went further during next several years, and the documentary shows us several big moments of theirs. They deliberately desecrated the tomb of the mother of Fred Phelps Jr. for mocking what is represented by his infamous Church group, and they also tried to hold a Black Mass at the Harvard University, which is incidentally located around a certain major city known as the center of American Catholicism. When their plan for Black Mass was reported in public, many Christians in that city were quite more pissed off about that than the members of the Satanic Church expected, and their planned Black Mass was eventually canceled by the Harvard University.

And then their biggest public moment came when the Ten Commandments Monument was about to be established on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds in Little Rock, Arkansas. Greaves and his fellow Satanists regarded this monument as a serious violation on the separation of church and state as clearly stated in the US Constitution, so they demanded the Arkansas State to install a big Satanic statue along with that Christian monument, but, not so surprisingly, their demand was not welcomed much by many people in Arkansas including a state senator named Jason Rapert, who was a key figure behind the establishment of that Christian monument.

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Although nothing was certain at that point, Greaves and the members of Satanic Temple moved onto making the Satanic stature to be installed on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds, and we get a series of small amusing moments observed from the following preparation process. Thanks to a friend of one of the key Satanic Temple members, they quickly got the suitable design for that Satanic statue, and I must say I got some good laughs from its rather cheery appearance.

Meanwhile, the Satanic Temple gained more followers and chapters thanks to more exposure in the media and the public, and we meet a number of various people who are quite willing to talk in front of the camera about how they came to join the Satanic Temple. As their group became a lot bigger than before, Greaves and his Satanic colleagues came to form a sort of central council for supervising their numerous chapters in and outside US, and that is certainly ironic considering that their belief is based a lot on the defiance against the system.

In the end, the Ten Commandments Monument was installed at a spot behind the Arkansas State Capitol in 2018, but the members of the Satanic Temple attempted to protest against that at least. With that Satanic statue of theirs, their demonstration in front of the Arkansas State Capitol surely drew lots of attention as usual, and that is another absurdly funny moment in the documentary in my trivial opinion.

Overall, “Hail Satan?” is worthwhile to watch for its witty and cheerful presentation of Satanism, and director Penny Lane, who previously made “Our Nixon” (2013), did a competent job of handing her human subjects with humor and respect. Yes, I still find myself tickled by those Satanists shown in the documentary, but I do respect their religious freedom nonetheless, and I sincerely wish good luck on their continuing pursuit of justice and freedom.

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