The Satanic Temple's origins, goals, and growth are explored.
Directed by Penny Lane
Review by Jon Kissel
Aside from the needless juicing, Lane otherwise constructs a coherent growth narrative. Not unlike The VVitch, the Satanic Temple takes an absurd worldview seriously and inhabits its worst fears. The trolling comes in through purposely coming off so amateurish that the founders of the Satanic Temple send an unmistakable signal of harmlessness, only for the rank idiots of America to nonetheless find them terrifying. That backlash only inspires more of that specific impulse of rebelliousness. Some might call that childish, like it’s a Rage Against the Machine lyric come to life, but convincing the oppressed that their worth and their views are insignificant is a tool of the oppressor. Against the dominionist politicians of Oklahoma and Arkansas, fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me. These First Amendment heroes inspire others who’ve lived under the yolk of the religious. Chapters spread. Credos are written. Tactics are formalized and, like any religion, disagreements and schisms happen. Milky-eyed Lucien Graves becomes a pope in his black-painted Vatican City, encouraging good works in the community and standing up for the Establishment Clause wherever it’s threatened.
It helps, and is oddly fitting, that a doc about the opposite of god would have such a clean Manichean split. On the side of truth and skepticism and science are the heavily tatted and pierced army of the Satanic Temple, while the side of ignorance and bullying and conformity are a few steps away from goose-stepping Graves et al into concentration camps. Though there are plenty of clean-cut Satanic Temple adherents, the default setting for them is a punk aesthetic. Their rites are infused with homosexuality, and they count many trans members amongst their ranks. Providing fellowship for the rejected, either because of their tastes or their innate sense of self, is as vital as the Satanic Temple’s work for the First Amendment, and could be their greatest contribution to society over the course of its existence. There’s certainly no place for those people within the churches of the people they’re fighting against. The flattening aspect of ‘polite’ society has rarely been clearer than it is here.
What would a religion be without a sense of victimhood, and the Satanic Panic provided that for many of the talking heads. In an archival PSA, it’s recommended to parents that they should call the cops if their child takes an interest in Dungeons and Dragons. Hail Satan only skims this era as it’s far more interested in the grabby struggle to place a goat statue on courthouse steps than a history lesson, but what is present is hardened into a nugget of righteous indignation. We now know that the very things supposed Satanists were being accused of, specifically ritualized child rape, was actually being practiced by such grand moral pillars as the Catholic church. Despite that hunk of global news, parents aren’t storming into Sunday schools furious that they’re children are being taught to revere authority by a known criminal organization, but into Satanic Temple after-school programs, where skepticism and critical thinking, the tools of good citizenship, are being instilled in the next generation.
This has been an overheated review for the most part. I’m not going to actually join the Satanic Temple, though I’ll likely send a donation to the local chapter. However, this movie is pitched so squarely at my interests and my irritations and my passions that I cannot help but greatly enjoy it. The Seven Tenets are great rules to live by, far better than the jealous neediness in the Ten Commandments. These men and women know what they’re doing and they’ve thought deeply about their mission. That kind of thoughtfulness doesn’t preclude throwing devil horns behind a piece of shit Arkansas legislator. Lane’s not making flawless docs yet but she has a great instinct for what to make films about. Say it with me now: Hail Satan! B+