(director: Penny Lane; cinematographer: Naiti Gámez; editors: Amy Foote, Aaron Wickenden; music: Brian McOmber; cast: Lucien Greaves, Jex Blackmore; Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Gabriel Sedgwick; Magnolia Pictures; 2019)

“A smart and lighthearted sympathy for the devil documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Penny Lane (“Nuts!”/”Our Nixon”) comes up with a smart and lighthearted sympathy for the devil documentary. The film exposes the evangelicals and the Catholic Church as hypocrites for trying to overturn that underlying conviction that America was built on the principle of separation between church and state, as under conman Trump they have been encouraged to try to turn America into their vision of a Christian state. The fight to save America from being over-run by the fired-up evangelicals is being waged by the Satanic Temple in Florida, founded in 2013, by its leader and spokesman, the hoodie-clad Lucien Greaves, the articulate Harvard-educated activist. But he has differences with the more politically provocative and volatile female activist Jex Blackmore, who is based in the Detroit Temple. Greaves’s urgent message is for an open-mindedness of religion and of it being inclusive, which is a more progressive stance than most current Christian sects in America. To recruit and promote their good fight for freedom of religious expression, the Temple’s 50,000 members are willing to take public action controversial stands and do outlandish things to get publicity for the cause (as they staged a “pink mass” over the grave of the mother of Westboro Baptist Church homophobic minister Fred Phelps–posthumously they converted her to lesbianism). Hey, he’s a bad dude and I thought that was pretty funny even if it was in bad taste.

Lane gleefully explores the history of the group by showing them in public mimicking the trappings of traditional churches and getting under their skin in their fight for religious freedom, as well as poking holes in their supposedly social good deeds. Lane sides with these Satanists because she shares their fair-minded religious attitudes and deeply humanistic concerns for others and their willingness to openly challenge the authorities who cave in to the pressures of the Christian extremists. But she also can call them out when they act dumb and go overboard in sleaze in their protests.

For the Satanic Temple, the prince of darkness is viewed as a rebellious bad boy, someone who takes pleasure sticking it to the establishment to make sure they don’t become converted Christians.

The film’s best scene shows the government of Arkansas erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments outside the state capitol, while Greaves protests and applies to the court to have a bronze 10-foot statue of Baphomet (a demon with a goat’s head) put up next to it. We are informed through interviews that the Ten Commandments statues began life as a promotional for the 1956 Cecil B DeMille film starring Charlton Heston.

The question mark in the title seems to ask if this attempt at Satanism is merely a joke (the answer seems to be these folks are serious pranksters). The viewers should decide for themselves after watching this largely misfit cult group conduct their business what they think of the movement. I found it another way to protest social injustice, like it or not. After all, protest is part of the American tradition and, in any case, in this current culture war the Satanists seem more patriotic than the intolerant evangelicals or uptight Catholic Church.

Hail Satan?

REVIEWED ON 8/25/2019       GRADE: B+