Mike’s Review: Satan Wants You (SXSW 2023)

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

🚫 out of 🩸🩸🩸🩸🩸

Directed by Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor.

If you know horror you know Satan. You might even say horror and Satan are best pals. They’ve been hanging around for a long time always pushing boundaries and always trying something cheeky and new. 

Sometimes this friendship is on the down-low and sometimes Satan gets a pinch uppity and decides to out the entire relationship. Or at least his (or her) relationship to the general public. When that happens it’s a messy and ugly affair. 

While 2023’s Satan Wants You details this ugly and messy fascination that the public has with Satan, the film is anything but. At its core, the film follows a fairly benign book from the 1970s, Michelle Remembers, that begat an international panic — all in the name of Satan. 

Michelle Remembers was originally released in 1980, the book, follows Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and his psychiatric patient Michelle Smith as the two unearth Michelle past trauma brought on by, you guessed it, SATAN. Michelle, through a series of hyper questionable psychotherapy practices, divulges that during a 14 month period of time in the 1950s she was subject to a never-ending stream of horrifying satanic ritual abuse.  Worse yet, her mother was complicit in the acts.

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Directors Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor rapping about Satan Wants You at SXSW 2023.

As Michelle and Lawrence get deeper in to the therapy they deftly involve the Catholic Church and create, what would become, a satanic ritual abuse dog-and-pony show throughout Canada and the U.S. While even the understandably frustrated priestess from the Church of Satan, Blanche Barton, doesn’t entirely pin the 1980s satanic panic on the book, but she does fully realize that it’s impact was monumental. 

Michelle and Lawrence were incredibly gentle, thoughtful, and believable souls in this effort. Yet, what turned out as a simple attempt to put out the good word about the looming threat of satanic ritual abuse, quickly grew in to a shameless cash grab. It’s clear that both Michelle and Lawrence loved the attention and the spooky product that they turned out. 

Throughout the film, directors Steve Adams and Sean Horlor, delicately pick apart the phenomenon with exceptional interviews with Michelle and Lawrence’s family and friends, FBI investigators, podcasters, law enforcement, and again, the high priestess of the Church of Satan. While the film largely focuses around the horrors wrought by Michelle Remembers, it also examines other high profile allegations and the aftermath of debunked ritual abuse cases. 

Scariest Things Podcast got a ticket to the world premiere!!!

The filmmakers take a thoughtful approach to the topic and never heavily lean in to the obvious topics involving heavy metal, horror movies, dungeons and dragons, or even their intersection with drugs. While these things are all mentioned, they’re not mentioned in a cloying or cliched manner. Towards the later part of the film their is a short discussion of the cyclical nature of the satanic ritual abuse and good vs. evil construct involving QANON, but it’s only passing mention. Admittedly, this could have been (…and likely will be) it’s own documentary. 

If you thought you knew everything about the Satanic Panic of the 1980s then guess again. You really don’t. Satan Wants You creatively brings this subject into clear focus and functions as one of the saddest cautionary tales in recent decades. 

Satan Wants You premiered at SXSW 2023 and will be shown at several festivals in 2023.

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