I first saw Director Penny Lane’s latest documentary Hail Satan? during Sundance 2019, and I knew immediately that it would get scooped up and make its way down the mountain for all to see despite (and possibly because of) its controversial subject matter. At once it’s both exactly what you think it is and not at all what you’re afraid it might be.

IMDB plainly describes it as “A look at the quick rise and influence of the controversial religious group known as The Satanic Temple,” and it is obviously that; but it’s also much more in Lane’s ever-capable hands, with that question mark in the title giving away its atypical nature.

I’ll admit I went in seeing Hail Satan? apprehensively, and there certainly are some disconcerting scenes, especially when a rogue Temple leader attempts to put her own overtly inflammatory and overly theatrical stamp upon the Temple as a whole. But rather than being in the movie merely to provoke the audience, these scenes illustrate that mainstream churches could learn a thing or two from Satanic Temple co-founder Lucien Greaves about properly managing PR issues and/or resolving internal conflicts. It’s a heckuva thing to see the Satanic Temple police its unruly people far more effectively than the Catholic Church has handled its pedophile priests. But it’s only one of the many instances wherein Temple members seem so much more rational, measured, and reasonable than their godly counterparts, to say nothing of the seven fundamental tenets of the Satanic Temple being morally superior to the Ten Commandments.

But then again, most of us could learn something from this doc; not only about its subject matter specifically but about religious freedom and filmmaking in general. Director Lane knows what she’s doing, and as with her past docs (I encourage you to see Our Nixon and Nuts!), she knows how to make an illuminating film entertaining, even with given its edgy topic.

So if you’re willing to check out a tight 95 minutes of R-rated documentary about something that is probably already pressing your buttons, you might be pleasantly surprised by Hail Satan?

  • Hail Satan?
  • Director: Penny Lane
  • Distributor: Magnolia
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Runtime: 1 hrs. 35 min.
  • MPAA Rating: R for graphic nudity, and some language

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