2023, Movies

Satan Wants You (2023, Steve J. Adams, Sean Horlor)

This is an entertaining and swiftly-paced documentary about the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Specifically, it is focused on Michelle Remembers, and its authors, and the damage that book caused. It is the kind of thing I would highly recommend watching if you have no idea what the Satanic Panic was, but it is a little too surface-level about the panic as a whole if you already know about it. (It functions better as the story of Michelle Remembers.)

If you don’t know what Michelle Remembers is, it’s a book about supposed recovered memories of a patient named Michelle that was not fact-checked at all and became a sensation in the early 1980s. This film argues it kick-started the Satanic Panic and makes a fairly compelling case. (Though I think it’s more like the match that lit the powder keg and two-working-parent-homes is more likely the main cause.)

The film is the story of how Michelle Remembers was made and promoted, and how that led to the Satanic Panic. As I mentioned above, the actual Satanic Panic part of the film is a little more cursory than I would like. For example, it’s a Canadian film but it doesn’t even mention Martensville. I understand the Martensville panic has been covered rather a lot lately but it feels like a fairly major omission about in a Canadian film about a Canadian psychiatrist helping to start the Satanic Panic.

But the film does a mostly good of telling the story of Michelle Remembers and, perhaps as importantly, it is entertaining in the telling. This is not a documentary that moves slowly. As I said above, if you don’t know anything about this, I think it gives you pretty good summary of the panic and how bad it was. I also think they come down on the right side, rather unequivocally, which is good for something like this.

I have two nitpicks, both of them are fairly minor. The first one is very minor: I am not a fan of reenactments and I found the visualizations of what Michelle supposedly saw in her head, which there are more of early, kind of unnecessary and unhelpful. But whatever.

The slightly bigger nitpick is how they blame both Michelle and Pazder for the book and the panic, either in equal parts or even giving most of the blame to Michelle. Now, I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened, and I understand that multiple people who knew them both want to blame her. But, Pazder was the doctor in the situation, he was the authority figure, he was the “adult” as Jenn put it. He has both a personal and professional obligation to know and do better. So, for me, he deserves, at the very least, equal blame for this, but much more likely he deserves more of it. And I thought the film didn’t always come down on that side, often seeming to side with those who thought this was mostly the product of a woman hopelessly in love.

But I do think those are minor nitpicks. On the whole, I think this is a pretty good entry-level examination of one of the potential root causes of the Satanic Panic and I also think its message about eternal vigilance is particularly necessary now. If you cannot prove a secret society is doing literally anything, than you shouldn’t believe in that secret society. Also: people lie all the time, about anything and everything. That should never be a surprise. If something seems incredible or unbelievable and all you have is someone’s word…well, you don’t have very much.


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