A U.S. Satanic group is looking to make February an even more hellish month for movies than usual.
The Satanic Temple, an atheistic activist group claiming international membership that includes “thousands” of Canadians, is this week launching the horror movie The Witch through a four-city proclamation of “a new Satanic era.”
At the same time, Sony Pictures and the Vatican are jointly boosting Risen, a faith-based biblical thriller starring Joseph Fiennes as a Roman military leader tasked with finding the crucified body of Jesus Christ. Fiennes and his family met with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square last week before a screening of the film at the Vatican.
The Witch and Risen both open Feb. 19, adding a note of competition to a month usually devoted to Oscar nominee holdovers and studio castoffs.
The Satanic Temple is playing up the contrast between The Witch and Risen, although Jex Blackmore, the national spokesperson for the temple, says the Feb. 19 release date for both movies is “a coincidence.” (Sony Pictures offered no comment.)
The main push by Blackmore’s group, for which she heads the Detroit chapter, is to promote its view that The Witch, a Sundance-awarded film by writer/director Robert Eggers, represents a “transformative Satanic experience” for moviegoers. Set in 17th-century New England, the movie stars Anya Taylor-Joy as the scapegoated teen member of a Puritan family torn by supernatural forces.
On Wednesday, the Satanic Temple begins “the Sabbat Cycle,” a four-city U.S. tour — New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Detroit — combining screenings of The Witch with “interactive performances” aimed at broadening public acceptance of “Satanic values.”
Created in 2013, the Satanic Temple does not espouse supernatural beliefs, Blackmore told the Star in an email interview, nor does it promote a belief in the “personal Satan” of religious teaching, literature and pop culture.
The group sees itself as a politically active agency espousing individualism, self-expression and liberty, which includes the right to offend others in a non-violent fashion. The Satanic Temple has vigorously opposed public prayer in the U.S. — it declared the “dawn of a new Satanic era” outside the Michigan State capitol in December — but it also participates in community service through its “Socks for Satan” program to clothe the homeless.
Blackmore said film distributor A24 sent her a copy of The Witch and after viewing “this incredibly powerful film” she agreed to support it.
“Clearly, this film is a fantasy, but it is symbolic of a proclamation of personal independence and a criticism of theocracy,” she told the Star.
“We believe this will awaken within the viewer a fresh appreciation for the separation of church and state, as well as a sense of empathy for those who are branded pariahs. The viewer may even relate to the protagonist personally, and be inspired to act to liberate themselves from an oppressive or dangerous cultural or religious context.”
Blackmore isn’t concerned about people who may choose to avoid or boycott The Witch due to its connection to the Satanic Temple and her group isn’t out to oppose other religions.
“We do not have any interest in altering our position on important matters to benefit the superstitions of some. We do not see ourselves in opposition to any other religion. However, we oppose oppressive social and cultural ideologies. Our aim is simply to affirmatively promote and protect Satanic values for our community.”
The Satanic Temple has 14 chapters, including ones in Italy and Finland, said Blackmore, a Detroit artist and activist who declined to reveal membership numbers. She said there are no immediate plans to create a Canadian chapter, however “thousands” of Canadians have joined as individuals.