Review: HAIL SATAN? Is A Hilarious And Unexpected Documentary

Baphomet monument in front of the state capitol building in Little Rock, AR featured in HAIL SATAN?, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Hail Satan? is a new documentary film directed by Penny Lane. It takes a look at The Satanic Temple, a controversial and quickly growing religious group, as they set out on a quest to encourage and protect First Amendment Rights. It has played at festivals including the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and the 2019 Florida Film Festival.

This movie’s story is definitely very interesting in an unexpected way. Most people will go in expecting this film to be an exploration of Satanism, but it’s not. Instead, the movie is more of a political documentary about a group of people who are trying to achieve a political agenda through unorthodox means. Constitutional rights are and have always been a significant point of debate in our country, and this film offers a unique perspective on the issue.

Unfortunately, this movie may be prevented from reaching wider audiences because of these incorrect preconceived notions. In all honesty, this film isn’t made for a highly conservative audience. Some of the political views expressed in the movie are pretty liberal and there is some content that may anger the most conservative of viewers. However, audiences need not fear having their religion insulted — that is not the point of the film.

A significant part of why this movie works is that it is so entertaining to watch. You will be laughing out loud throughout the whole film. A majority of the TST members featured in the movie have a good sense of humor about what they are doing, so it is fun to watch them reply with a wisecrack when they are faced with opposition. Additionally, there are some parts of the story that will take you by surprise to the point you can’t help but laugh.

Supporters of TST at the rally for religious liberty in Little Rock, AR, August 2018 in HAIL SATAN?, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The film does a very good job of developing the subjects of the movie into well-rounded individuals. There are a lot of people interviewed in the film, but the main ones, particularly Lucien Greaves, are quite interesting. One of this movie’s foremost successes is debunking the myths associated with Satanists. Although there are a few people who fit the stereotype you might typically associate with Satanism, most of the interviewees appear to be reasonable and educated people.

If anything is wrong with the film, it is that it moves along at too quick of a pace. The runtime is just over an hour and a half, so the movie had enough room to spare that it could have explored some of the events in more depth. The world which this film is exploring is fascinating, so it would have been interesting to see even more. That being said, the movie in its current state is still extremely entertaining and rather informative.

On a technical level, the film was very good. The movie is told through a combination of fly-on-the-wall footage recorded of the TST in action and interviews with prominent players in the story. The interviews are well-shot but framed simply in a way that is mostly effective but not breathtaking. The most impressive part of the film’s execution is its use of music, which is often used to juxtapose the images onscreen. One of the best parts of the movie utilizes Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”.

Overall, Hail Satan? is a funny and well-made documentary. It will almost certainly rub some people the wrong way, but for those who are willing to go in with an open mind, this is sure to be one of the most pleasing cinematic experiences you will have all year.

Hail Satan? is now playing in select theaters.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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