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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Hail Satan? documentary review: the devil you say

Hail Satan? green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Hilarious, provocative look at the wonderfully profane rebels of the culture wars who, with tongue in cheek but seriously, too, are trolling fundie-Christian America with their delicious blasphemies.

part of my Movies for the Resistance series
I’m “biast” (pro): total atheist, will be burning in Hell, LOL, would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female director, female screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

All hail the Satanic Temple, one of the few entities in the United States these days standing up for such supposedly American ideals as freedom of religion, freethought, and just plain freedom… you know, the concepts the nation was allegedly founded upon but which, as Hamlet precog’d, are honored more in the breach than the observance. Penny Lane’s hugely necessary new documentary Hail Satan? is a hilarious, provocative, and trenchant look at these wonderfully profane rebels of the culture wars who — with tongue firmly in cheek but in all seriousness, too — are trolling fundie-Christian America by, among other delicious blasphemies, bringing lawsuits against any organization that seeks to place a monument to the Christian Ten Commandments on any government or public property. The Satanic Temple sues to be allowed to simultaneously place a statue (pictured above, and delightfully, obnoxiously huge) honoring Baphomet, the “Sabbatic goat” deity commonly assumed to be a stand-in for Lucifer. Because if the Jesus-shouters get an official stamp of approval, so should other religions. That’s the way America is supposed to work, isn’t it? All religions on an equal footing, right, and no religion elevated above any other?

Hail Satan?

LOL, blasphemy actually is totally protected free speech, losers…

Needless to say, the Jesus-shouters do not like this.

Unexpectedly, there is a ridiculous secret behind those Ten Commandments monuments that is… absolutely incredible. Hail Satan? tells all.

Seriously, it’s exhausting trying to unravel all the delusional and anti-American bullshit associated with Christian fascist fantasies, and Hail Satan? doesn’t even try. It would be an impossible job, anyway. Instead, Lane just focuses on the brilliant and brave activists of the Satanic Temple, with a solid focus on “Lucien Greaves,” its cofounder and spokesman, who is amusingly — and clearly with winking self-awareness — stereotypical in his visage, what with his one damaged eye that is slightly unworldly and a little bit unnerving, and simultaneously a savvy manipulator of the media, as the American right-wing is, and in a way that far too few other progressive entities are able to match. (He uses multiple layers of pseudonyms because of all the piously motivated death threats he gets. I’m sure Jesus would be so proud.)

The brilliant and brave activist spokesman of the Satanic Temple uses multiple layers of pseudonyms, because death threats. Jesus would be so proud.

There is much criticism of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations and outright cults here (hello, Westboro Baptist assholes), and a defense of “Satanism” that may surprise those who’ve heard only one side of it. Lucifer as the ultimate embodiment of the fight against tyranny is a convincing spin on Christian mythology — and a very, very mythologically American one. And the Satanic Temple’s analog to the Ten Commandments, its Seven Tenets, is an amazing code of ethics, completely devoid of supernaturalism and replete with a profound humanist. (I guess that’s why religious fantasists hate it?) “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason” is the first one. All hail!

The notion that the United States is in any way a Christian nation is one that is 1) of very recent vintage, as explained here, and 2) one that needs a thorough pushing back against. It sucks that we need to reevaluate this idea yet again, but here we are, and we do. Hail Satan? is — ha ha! — doing the Lord’s work in this regard. All hail.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2019’s other theatrical releases.

green light 4 stars

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Hail Satan? (2019) | directed by Penny Lane
US/Can release: Apr 17 2019
UK/Ire release: Aug 23 2019 (VOD same day)

MPAA: rated R for graphic nudity, and some language
BBFC: not yet rated

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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