- Katherine McLaughlin
- 30 May 2019
Sundance London 2019: Activist group The Satanic Temple are the focus of Penny Lane's sharp documentary
It might sound scary but, with a rising membership and a mission to 'encourage benevolence and empathy among all people', The Satanic Temple – founded by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry in 2013 – is certainly worthy of examination. In this entertaining documentary, director Penny Lane (Nuts!) introduces us to a diverse bunch of members from different chapters across the US and UK, who have found a welcoming home in Satan's arms.
We follow the group as they rebel against state corruption and mischievously call out hypocrisy when it comes to religious pluralism. Many will find it difficult to argue with the Temple's stance when it comes to abortion rights, or as they make a stand against the Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for its use of hate speech. Their early tactics amount to media stunts, carried out with a knowing smirk on their faces. When they threaten to place a large Baphomet statue next to a Ten Commandments monument on the Arkansas Capitol grounds, it's played for laughs, but it makes an astute point about keeping state and church separate.
Lane's reaction as she interviews the endearing Greaves is one of delighted fascination at the Temple's non-violent strategies. She takes a similar approach to revealing the organisation's smarts as Michael Moore did in his interview with Marilyn Manson in Bowling for Columbine. Lane also spends time with Detroit chapter head Jex Blackmore, who begins to break away from the group's peaceful message, as the scandals of Trump's America push her to desperate measures. The filmmaker follows Blackmore's story to its unfortunate conclusion and, in doing so, displays her aptitude for rigorous investigation.
As the director digs deeper, the serious ramifications of the ongoing moral panics that rail against outsiders, including members of the LGBT community, really hit home – as does her brief exploration of historical injustice from the 80s and 90s, including cases like the West Memphis Three (for a deeper dive the documentaries West of Memphis and the Paradise Lost trilogy shed further light). Despite dabbling in dark material, in its humour and inspiring activism Hail Satan? acts as a beacon of hope for our troubled times.
Screening as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2019: London. Selected release from Fri 23 Aug.