Possibly the only Sydney Film Festival title ever to feature a question mark, Hail Satan? was easily the best time this author ever had standing in line at a cinema.

With several films screening simultaneously, Hail Satan? attendees and ushers would routinely engage in such exchanges;

“Hail Satan?”

“Hail Satan!”

(scan complete) “Hail Satan.”

There were variations, but not many.

This bit of fun bleeding into the documentary’s tongue in cheek approach to the Satanic Temple and their stated mission to promote religious freedom and pluralism, many a US politician and Government body have got on the wrong side of the organisation for, say, building a Ten Commandments monument on Government property.

If this group sounds familiar you may have heard of them in the context of Netflix who also got on their dark side and, in what no doubt elicited a few guffaws, had to settle with the Satanic Temple over the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s alleged misuse of their 7-foot goat-headed bronzed winged-deity Baphomet, which was first revealed, in of all places, Salem.

Boasting the torso of Iggy Pop among much else, the Temple’s efforts to get their statue placed alongside the Ten Commandments on State steps as chronicled here markedly elucidates on the dynamics of the religious freedom debates in the US while being intendedly hilarious. The organisation’s avowed argument; display any religious symbol anyone wants, and if you’re going to display the Ten Commandments then you have to let everyone else have a go.

The documentary covers the origins of the Temple, raising questions of the extent to which it’s existence and founding are rooted in pluralistic ideals and, in the momentary words of one interview subject, just how much of this is a troll. With Temple representatives deploying varied if not unsavvy approaches to countering US politicians and legalistic arguments which are welcomely elaborated on here, some of their methods, particularly that as regards one deceased individual, will no doubt attract viewers’ ire.

The filmmakers are however never focused so greatly on unpacking the moral dimensions of the Temple representatives’ motives or actions as their efficacy; a key question which fairly underpins any sense of investment anyone may have in this documentary or the Temple itself. Too, while Hail Satan? does hone in on one segment of the organisation depicted by the documentary and the Temple’s representatives as problematic in their rhetoric and actions, such insight into this grouping or any detractions inherent within the operations of the Satanic Temple are comparatively brief. 

A welcome insight regardless into this group, Hail Satan? is likewise an accessible, rollicking account of how fundamental fundamentalist debates play out in the US.

Hail Satan? screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival and will screen at the Revelation Film Festival on Monday July 8 at 8:30PM, Thursday July 11 at 3:45PM and Monday July 15 at 8:15PM at Luna Leederville and as part of Screenwave on January 12, 2020

on Falkenscreen