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Doc Corner: 'Hail Satan?'

By Glenn Dunks

How long do you think it took director Penny Lane to choose between putting a ? or an ! in the title of her latest delight of a documentary. Her follow-up to the equally wonderful Nuts! (another one where either punctuation mark would work), Hail Satan? left me wanting to convert from the cosy world of agnosticism to the Satanic Temple, which I suppose is as glowing a recommendation as one could get for a film directly about the Satanic Temple.

I was first introduced to Lane through Our Nixon, a relatively staid and standard assemblage of home movies that held little suggestion that Lane would quickly become one of the most interesting purveyors of absurd American life working today.

Hail Satan? is often hilarious, and often infuriating. Both by design. The comedy comes not from presenting the parishioners of the Satanic Temple as kooks and deranged weirdos, but from the juxtaposition between the Temple’s reputation and the truth. It’s infuriating because, like the natural flip side of comedy, there is genuine tragedy in the way American society has been co-opted by the dominant Christian religion in such a way that the Temple comes off as not just normal, but sane, rational and entirely logical of an alternative.

It’s that tragedy that the Satanic Temple and Hail Satan? try to fight against. Documenting the Temple’s numerous attempts to uphold the American value of separation between church and state by fighting religious belief with religious belief, Lane uses a lighthearted tone – communicated through Brian McOmber’s charming score and the well-paced editing of Amy Foote and Aaron Wickenden – to convey the genuinely fracturing double standards that the country is guilty of.

It’s one-sided, sure, but Lane lays out her case more than adequately in defending her stance that the other side, so frightened of something they perceive as a threat, is truly incapable of understanding the irony of their antagonism to the Satanic Temple who are, by most accounts, doing more to uphold the moral high-ground. Certainly more so than any Fox News personality or community council-members (both of whom appear regularly throughout in various forms) using the position of power to subjugate those beneath them. And certainly more so than churches who drummed up public fear mobs of satanic panic to help cover up their own ghastly sins and keep the people cowering in fear that naturally only their church can protect them from.

The film is also just a rollicking entertainment. Smartly mischievous right up until the very end of its credits with a wink and a coy smile, Hail Satan? is perhaps at its most gleeful when Lane herself can be heard unable to stifle her laughter behind the camera. She films the unfolding events throughout with a genuine sense of giddiness, an infectious attitude as if she can’t believe what gold she has uncovered. By capturing the Satanic Temple at their most politically satirical and yet deadly serious, Lane has crafted the sort of documentary that it feels like Michael Moore has been trying to make for the last two decades with diminishing success.

That cinematic lineage is also there through glimpses of the “killers” from the Paradise Lost and Southwest of Salem cases, not to mention the assortment of horror movies, kitchy or otherwise, that are evoked by its horned goats and cloaked satanists. Those who caught the somewhat goofy Jayne Mansfield doc Mansfield 66/67 will find much to recognise here, too. Along with a keen eye for a great talking head, Penny Lane has gifted us with a work that subverts as much as a delights.

Hail Satan? Hail Satan!

Release: Opens in NYC next week on the 17th and LA on the 19th before expanding out from there.

Oscar chances: The doc branch rarely go for stuff this comedic in tone no matter the subject matter. Sad, but true. However, if it strikes a chord at the box office and makes some inroads with critics awards then they could surprise us.

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Reader Comments (2)

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. For sheer crackpotirude you can't beat the subject matter. I think we all need some comic relief these days, so this film may indeed find an audience.

April 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Any film that has a critique towards Christianity, Evangelicals, and others who are more about suppressing one's beliefs and ideals definitely has me interested. Honestly, I'd rather be a Satanist at this point than a fucking Christian. They claim to follow all of this and be about love which is such fucking bullshit.

April 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

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