What came first human values or religion? It’s this chicken and the egg question that Penny Lane’s documentary Hail Satan? aims to unpack, focusing on the lack of separation of church and state that has become incredibly evident within American politics. The film follows a campaign from The Satanic Temple to have a statue of Baphomet placed on the lawn of the Arkansas State Capitol next to a ten commandments monument. The statue representing a challenge to the laws of religious freedom in the US.
There is a reason why the title of this film has a question mark at the end. It becomes apparent as the film moves on, that maybe satanists are not all that you imagined they would be. With a heavy hand in social justice and political activism The Satanic Temple begins to appear less like a religion and more like a club for minorities who have had enough. But as is explored throughout the films interviews, is that not what Satan represents? And there’s your question mark.
The story is very well put together with a selection of archived and captured footage and the interview subjects are witty and engaging. It is clear from the very start that this film will strike a chord with those of us who either choose not to participant in religion or have issues with their governments policies. Which makes me wonder who this documentary is really for?
The audience I saw this film with was clearly one who sympathised, or was ready to sympathise, with the satanists in this film. I can’t imagine any devout christian anywhere choosing to go see a film titled Hail Satan of their own accord. It made me wonder because whilst I enjoyed the film, in the back of my mind, I already knew that I would. It perpetuates that inner circle of belief that can sometimes make you go mad at election time when all your friends have spoken about is voting one way and then the other person gets in.
Having a similar view point to those in the film made it less challenging, infuriating at times in terms of the clear theocracy (In god we trust), and whilst entertaining felt highly curated even if what the interviewees were saying was their truth. I would love to see those who are following a religion, or consider themselves conservative, watch the film because I think the impact would be greater than it was on me.
For me the questions around whether or not satanists truly worship Satan or if they are merely non-violent political activists didn’t end up mattering in the end because I believed in what they were doing and agreed with the statement that their 9 foot high Baphomet was trying to make. But if you don’t agree with their campaign then this documentary will have plenty more to say to you.
Hail Satan? is no longer showing at the Sydney Film Festival but will be at Munich International Film Festival later in July.