Documentary film Hail Satan? reveals how one cult is, as a matter of fact, an organization that cares about feminism, gay rights and social justice.
If you find yourself lacking in knowledge on the six-year-old Satanic Temple, they’ve hit the big screen with informative reels. Through providential footage recounting various members, the documentary film Hail Satan? tells the story of how the Temple came to be, successes, its failures and ultimately where it’s headed.
If you were one of the maybe three people at the Temple’s first onscreen press conference/rally, you would have never guessed that anyone would follow them. A Halloween store-purchased black-cloaked Satanic interloper delivers an awkward speech to almost no one. Having practiced a comical parlor trick to display the audience, the move fails in execution and the press conference is an abysmal failure. While giving a post-rally interview to the press—the few that were there—they cryptically answer questions while a man wearing dark sunglasses and garb stands behind him.
That man is the Temple’s co-founder and seemingly reluctant spokesperson, Lucien Greaves. We aren’t given a very good reason for his reluctance—maybe he simply wants to avoid the public eye—but it was abundantly clear that the Temple’s first choice simply wasn’t going to cut it. Everything about Greaves screams, “I’m the leader of a Satanic cult.”
As the film unfolds, however, you learn that perhaps the organization and its people aren’t as “evil” as they seem. The film follows Jex Blackmore, the founder of the Detroit chapter of the Temple. She’s something of a firebrand, a rebel within an already highly rebellious organization. The film showcases the many lurid spectacles that Blackmore and her chapter staged. We bare witness to a fervent speech—delivered over ominous music—that concludes in two men embracing in a passionate kiss. You end up reveling in her vehemence, clarion calls for “destruction of the patriarchy” and infectious subversiveness. When she exits the story, you can’t help but ask “Why would an organization so bent on defending freedom of expression stifle exactly that?”
The film questions that in a country where we have a sitting alt-right, internet troll president—one who deserves Jex Blackmore’s extreme condemnation—how are we to counter such willful systemic disdain for justice? What happens when the laws our ancestors enshrined—constitutional rights gifted to us in the background of genocide and white supremacy—are applied with blatant inequality?
The Satanic Temple uses these laws against Christian right establishments, especially when they further their goals under the guise of “religious freedom.” They demand the erection of Baphomet statues when state governments erect Biblical ones on government property in blatant disregard for the United States Constitution. They troll anti-abortion protesters, becoming the living black-cloaked embodiment of everything they fear. When corporations lobby for “religious exemption” clauses to avoid covering basic women’s healthcare in their employee benefits, the Satanic Temple is there saying, “This also covers Satanists who have a religious belief in women’s healthcare.”
Near the end of Hail Satan? the film takes a pause from its fairly high-spirited pace. There’s infighting and various local chapters have seceded from the national organization. The Temple faces a major legal setback, Greaves suits up in body armor to protect himself from religious zealots, and the fate of their iconic status is in limbo. It is the first occasion in the movie—barring a few glimpses of the security camera system the Temple has installed at their headquarters—where we see that this isn’t all rebellious debauchery and Christian trolling, there’s palpable risk involved with these activities. The death threats are unmistakably real.
Despite this, Hail Satan? still manages to end on an upbeat note. In dark times, when authoritarianism is on the rise, Hail Satan? is a call to action. When the opposition believes in magic and fairy tales, sometimes the best response is to become the horrific undead necrodragon in their nightmares—a tactic that works especially well when you don’t believe in magic and fairy tales yourself.
Hail Satan? is currently playing at Cinema 21 and Hollywood Theatre.