Satan is rebellious, but not always interesting

C+ Activist documentary
Directed by Penny Lane

Like the Satanic Temple itself, this documentary has a message to preach, and does so tongue in cheek. The message is a good one, but you get almost the whole point in the first 15 minutes. Then it’s mostly repetition speckled with occasional interesting bits.

Most members of the Satanic Temple don’t literally believe in the Satan that they worship – an attitude that’s completely fine with me. They view Satan, symbolically, not as evil incarnate but as a rebel against an evil God who creates arbitrary and harmful rules.

To a large degree, the Temple is as much a political entity as a religious one; but that hardly makes them unique. But unlike the preachers who tell their congregation that they will go to Hell if they don’t vote Republican, they’re fighting for religious plurality.

Much of the film involves attempts to remove monuments of the Ten Commandments off courthouses and other government buildings. Their basic technique is to insist that they be allowed to place a statue of Satan next to the more conventional monument. The issue goes to court. The local government discovers that it must either allow Satan or remove the Ten Commandments. They pick the later, which is what the Satanists wanted in the first place.

We see a lot of important members of the organization – especially founder Lucien Greaves (not his real name) on TV, often Fox News, explaining their views.

We see a lot of Christians screaming in horror. In one sequence, the Catholic Church succeeds in closing a Satanic rally in Boston. One member interviewed for the film notes that the Church that is calling them evil have been hiding hundreds or child rapes for decades (probably centuries).

We see several Satanic rituals, and they’re pretty wild. There’s chanting, nudity, and wine poured down people’s throats. One priestess (I’m not sure if that’s the word they use) goes overboard with actual pig heads stuck on pikes as she calls for Trump’s assassination. Greaves excommunicates her; their Satan is entirely non-violent.

The filmmakers want you to know that the Satanic Temple is deeply moral, and its members are good citizens. More than once we see them cleaning up litter along highways and beaches. (I can’t help wondering what drivers think when they pass a sign stating that “This part of the highway is maintained by the Satanic Temple.”) They have their own Ten Commandments, but they’re only seven and they’re called tenets. They make sense.

Although Hail Satan? runs only 95 minutes, it feels like a lot more. You hear and see the same things over and over again. The filmmakers have a good point to make, but they didn’t have to keep repeating it.

Hail Satan? Opens Friday, April 26, at the Embarcadero Center (in San Francisco) and the California (in Berkeley).