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#HotDocs23 Review: Satan Wants You

April 28, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2023 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 27th to May 7th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

In their new documentary Satan Wants You, co-directors Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor offer a fascinating look at how the best-selling Canadian book Michelle Remembers helped fuel the now-infamous Satanic Panic of the 1980s.

The book was a collaboration between Michelle Smith, a woman in Victoria, British Columbia, and her psychiatrist Larry Pazder, recounting her “repressed memories” about being given to a satanic cult by her mother as a child. Michelle claimed that she was kept there for fourteen months, where she was physically abused and witnessed animal and baby sacrifices to summon the devil himself. But questions were raised around the validity of her story, and the nature of the doctor-patient relationship between Michelle and Larry.

Still, the book gained the support of the Catholic Church, got Michelle and Larry notoriety on the daytime talk show circuit, and led to a cottage industry of training law enforcement to look for the signs of satanic ritual abuse. The attention around Michelle Remembers led to others suddenly claiming to remember repressed memories with the help of psychiatrists, causing the so-called Satanic Panic, which had real world consequences. The filmmakers draw a direct line to the McMartin daycare case, where dozens of kids were coaxed into saying they were being ritualistically abused by satanists, with little actual evidence.

Through interviews with family members and some longtime skeptics in law enforcement, the film does come down on the side of Michelle’s story being a complete fabrication. But it still leaves us with some lingering, unanswerable questions about where exactly the truth lies and who was actually responsible for the hoax; was it Michelle or Larry manipulating the other one through their sessions, or was it a case of actual delusion?

Adams and Horlor offer a mix of interviews, archival news footage, and tasteful re-enactments to tell this story, packing a lot into a concise 89 minutes. The result is an engaging documentary that works very well as a thought-provoking and often chilling cinematic time capsule of this unique period in time, and how eerily similar mass hysterias can continue to take root to this day.

Screenings: Thursday, April 27th, 8:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; Friday, May 5th, 9:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1. Tickets can be purchased here, and the film will also be streaming online across Canada from May 5th to 9th.

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