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Review: Hail Satan? – “A side-splitting, painfully prescient and compassionate film”

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Directed by Penny Lane (The Pain of Others, Nuts!) Hail Satan? is a documentary about the creation, growth and battles of a group who believe in justice, religious freedom, LGBT rights, science, women’s right to choose, love and empathy and want to save the world: *twist* they’re Satanists.

Yes, with incredibly complete access to The Satanic Temple, Hail Satan! confronts and challenges the preconceptions of what these modern Satanists are and believe in, and shows that in the current political hellscape these historically maligned folks are actually the good guys.

Beginning with a swift and lively potted history of Satanism in America that covers everything from Anton LaVey in the sixties to the “satanic panic” in the eighties and then the formation of the modern Satanic Temple and its insanely rapid growth from a handful of members in the USA to 50,000 people worldwide – including a group just down the road from me in Lewisham, London.

Via candid interviews with extremely charming leader Lucien Greaves, we learn that The Satanic Temple are not devil worshippers. Instead, they see “Satan” as the ultimate free-thinking God-less rebel against tyranny and equate Satanism with activism. They are horrified at what the world is becoming and are desperately trying to reestablish – let alone keep – the supposed separation between church and state in America, provide a safe space for people who are seen as or feel like outcasts, and to try and make things better.

The film is clearly on the side of The Satanic Temple, and to be fair it is hard not to be. A light is shone on all the good they do, like setting up an after school “Satan Club” for kids to read and colour as well as a women’s sanitary products donation charity catchily called “Menstruatin’ with Satan”. They also even adopt a highway and a stretch of beach to collect litter from and keep clean.

But Lane’s film is not afraid to show the cynicism that sometimes creeps in. At times the media manipulation feels so savvy that it tips into trolling and we also are shown Graves and the Temple taking things a bit far. We all know Fred Phelps and his “God Hates Fags” sign wielding Westboro Baptist Church are evil but holding a “Pink Mass” on his mum’s tombstone to turn her gay beyond the grave is a little OTT. Hilarious, but a little OTT.

And it’s a very, very funny film throughout. It’s fly-on-the-wall style comedy that shows and revels in those awkward pauses and little spaces in-between, and gives moments where we and the protagonists realise the absurdity of what’s happening time to soak in, as some very sweet people try to fight ignorance, hatred and injustice with nothing but some wind-ups and a lot of love.

Rousing and engaging, Hail Satan? is a side-splitting, painfully prescient and compassionate film that will by turns anger and inspire, and have you despairing for the world one minute and laughing like a drain the next.

Hail Satan? is released in the UK on the 26th of July.

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