There’s only a select few documentarians which I could label their work as revelatory. Some of these directors include Wim Wenders, Michael Moore, and Morgan Neville. However, one filmmaker as of recently has changed the way I look at the medium, which I’m glad to add to the ranks of these very filmmakers. This artist is of course, Penny Lane. With only four features under her belt, her 2016 flick Nuts! is what really got me interested in the medium. The way she plays with narrative, and factual evidence is deeply enthralling, and in a deeper sense (without spoiling any of the fun) elevates the typically used cinematic conclusion. With her latest film Hail Satan?, there’s not many twists or turns as one would expect. In fact, the presentation of it all if quite straight forward. However, what really sticks, is the humor, a common element sprinkled throughout most of her work, that frequently charms and enchants audiences and critics alike. Hail Satan? doesn’t have any shortage of this brilliant comedic timing throughout it’s 90 minute run-time.
The most biting element of Hail Satan? isn’t just the comedic moments, but more so how these multiple comedic real life occurrences, lead to a bigger problem and solution. At the end of the day, Hail Satan? isn’t a film about The Satanic Temple or it’s head honcho Lucien Greaves, or even it’s followers. It’s a film about the influence of media, the corruption of media, and how viewers can be swayed by misrepresentation of certain minority groups, in a result of bigoted unnecessary hatred, started from basic biases and political factors. This includes the tragedy which was the Satanic Panic, an era of mass hysteria where innocent people were incarcerated for horrendous “devilish” crimes they did not commit. The true irony of it all? While the innocent were being persecuted, multiple Christian priests continued to sexually abuse children during this very time, as a shameful cover-up.
While it’s subject matter is deeply compelling, and shows an unfiltered look at the hypocrisy and ineptitude of the American judicial system and media, there’s two certain important elements in which Hail Satan? lacks in. The first is a general focus, in which pieces of informative topics and story-lines are meshed together in a relatively sloppy way, with bits of humor used as the superglue to piece said parts together. Regardless of how hilarious it became, the film never felt as cohesive as it should have. The second is the lack of more alternative sources. Although there’s plenty of great material from the members of the Satanic Temple, the film at times feels unconditionally biased due to it’s hierarchy towards people who have been unified or affected positively by Satanism and it’s influences.
Hail Satan? may not be Penny Lane’s best film. However, her clear knack for comedic interludes, delightful subjects, and general cinematic provocation is shown yet again in her latest. While not as artistically focused or even stylistically presented compared with her previous work, Hail Satan? Is still a hell of a time, regardless of your beliefs or personal affiliations.
Hail Satan? opens in Select Cinemas April 19th