Review: HAIL SATAN? at the Las Vegas Film Festival

By Josh Muchly

It’s funny. It’s smart. It’s touching.

Upshot: A look at the inception and influence of the controversial group known as The Satanic Temple (TST), its members, and their quest for approval to erect a Baphomet statue at the Arkansas Capitol.

Rundown: There’s a sense of brutal honesty at the heart of this film. Nothing is off limits. It’s funny. It’s smart. It’s surprisingly compelling.

Anything you need to know about the main story can be found in the film’s trailer. Its a rather straightforward premise. The interviewees are what we really care about; therefore, you do need a strong curiosity about them and TST to fully enjoy the film. These are sympathetic individuals who many in the audience will connect with (I know I did), which is  probably one of the reasons the moment is is growing so quickly.

The founders of TST guide us through the personal experiences that led them to Satanism, what Satanism is, and what it means to them. It’s touching. They’re outsiders, and we’re exploring how (they perceive) the system has failed them. We’re seeing why they feel thy need to balance “Christian Supremacy.” Within the deep-dive is an exploration of Americana, past and present. Even now, it seems, from Arkansas to Utah the separation of Church and State isn’t as delineated as many may expect.

Somewhat unrelated to the story itself (but still relevant) is the title. I love the tile. Adding the question mark is inviting and induces curiosity. It’s also a way of avoiding a cultural over-use of the phrase “Hail Satan,” which is something members of TST find meaning in. As with the film itself, there’s an acknowledgment of unfamiliarity with Satanism; there’s a perfect blend of education on the organization in addition to the history of the threat they fear.

Highpoint: the dissenter among the Dissenters. Jax is a founding member of TST, but was excommunicated when her branch of Satanism (“the Detroit chapter”) conflicts with the growing movement. This could have been excluded to portray TST as a cohesive movement on-the-rise; it wasn’t. Consequently, we are left acknowledging that — despite our feelings about the group, its members or its mission — this is now an established group…. Established groups have different dynamics than rogue protesters. Inter-group confrontation can be more exciting to watch than resistance from the outside.

Lowpoint: the final moments. Handel’s “Messiah” plays as TST earns their (Baphomet statue at the Capitol) victory; its a cheeky (but old) use of the song, like in CHRISTMAS VACATION when Clark Griswald finally turns the decorations turn on. It is so glorious and successful, in fact, that we’re left questioning why it seemed so easy to accomplish…. Either the opposition wasn’t all that intense, or their extremeness of their legal chess-playing wasn’t properly captured.

Score: 5 out of 7

Postscript: I have some issues with what I see as discrepancies in TST’s logic, but that requires a different and longer analysis than this movie review will allow. And, ultimately, the goal of the documentary was not combat TST anyway; it was to tell the their story. In the post-screening Q&A, Penny Lane — who is not a member or spokesperson for TST — was impartial and cordial, and invited any questions. She feels has documented the birth of a legitimate (perhaps, even important!) religious movement; she may be correct.

Contact: @muchlymedia on Twitter or email josh.muchly@gmail.com

 

5.00 avg. rating (94% score) - 1 vote

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