Satanic Panic is a gory, schlocky and ultimately entertaining horror movie, though its message about generational divides gets lost in the mess.
Horror films have long reflected the society in which they were made, either intentionally or not, tackling themes integral to every generation of moviegoer. How explicit each horror movie is about its wider themes largely depends on the filmmakers involved. In the case of Satanic Panic, written by horror author Grady Hendrix (My Best Friend’s Exorcism) and directed by Chelsea Stardust (Into the Dark), the movie hits its viewer over the head with its themes, but lets its overarching ideas get muddled by all the witchy horror and demonic rituals. Satanic Panic is a gory, schlocky and ultimately entertaining horror movie, though its message about generational divides gets lost in the mess.
Satanic Panic follows young Millennial Sam Craft (Hayley Griffith), who spends her first day as a pizza delivery driver getting tricked by frat bros, enduring the racism of older folks and being stiffed on tips. However, when she takes a delivery for the affluent – but out of their zone – Mill Basin, things get even worse for Sam when she’s stiffed again and confronts the residents of the house, only to be kidnapped by high society Satanists, lead by Danica Ross (Rebecca Romijn), who need a virgin sacrifice. With some help from Judi Ross (Ruby Modine), Sam tries to survive the night and escape the clutches of Danica – but the coven has problems of their own with Gypsy Neumieir (Arden Myrin) vying for the role of leader. Still, it remains to be seen if Sam and Judi can avoid the Satanists long enough for the sun to rise and time to run out for the ritual.
Satanic Panic serves as Stardust’s feature film directorial debut, having helmed a handful of shorts and a TV film as part of the Hulu and Blumhouse produced Into the Dark series, “All that We Destroy”. Stardust’s skills with low-budget horror are on display in Satanic Panic, veering often into schlocky gore that’s more gross than scary. However, the director’s talent shines in one particularly tense sequence where Gypsy uses a voodoo doll-like ritual to try to kill Judi, and Sam must race to scribble symbols all over her new friend’s skin in order to save her. Balanced with an emotional monologue in which Sam tells Judi her backstory, the sequence offers a hint of what could have been if Satanic Panic had decided to play the demonic rituals more straight and less campy – and, though it’s overall enjoyable, it’s difficult not to wonder what that movie would’ve looked like and whether it would’ve been even better. However, Hendrix’s script is much more focused on leaning into the comedy horror genre, and it’s serviceable enough.
Where Satanic Panic veers into true camp is in some of its performances. Though Griffith anchors the cast as the audience stand-in, and excellently portrays Sam’s underlying strength throughout the movie, Romijn gets to have most of the fun as the elegantly evil Danica. Myrin, too, is delightfully devious as Danica’s second-in-command vying for the top spot in the coven, while Modine is endearingly brash as the foul-mouthed Judi. Jerry O’Connell turns in a short, but equally campy and entertaining performance as Danica’s husband Samuel Ross. However, when it comes to the supporting cast (and even some of the principals in certain moments) there’s plenty of overacting that somewhat cheapens the movie, largely because it’s unclear whether that’s what was intended or if it was accidental. Still, for the most part, the cast works well together, particularly the respective duos of Griffith and Modine and Romijn and Myrin.
Ultimately, though, Satanic Panic struggles with its themes and messages. It’s clear Hendrix and Stardust have something to say about the generational divide between Gen X and Millennials, since their differences are constantly being pointed out. However, what exactly it’s trying to say gets lost in a muddled third act twist as the film attempts to explain what’s going on both literally and figuratively. The comparisons between the adults and Sam and Judi eventually lead to an assertion that the younger generation isn’t necessarily weaker than their elders, which is somewhat refreshing, if you can wade through the chaotic events to get to that understanding. The movie also isn’t subtle about its subtext of the rich sacrificing the lower classes to maintain their wealth, but at least this theme is intelligible and pervasive throughout.
All in all, Satanic Panic is a bit messy as it attempts to deliver a compelling allegory for younger generations struggling to take over from their elders wrapped up in the trappings of a schlocky horror comedy. Though the muddled messages of Satanic Panic can be distracting, the film is entertaining enough, and excellently paced to keep the story moving, so that it’s easy to get swept along for the ride. Satanic Panic isn’t a must-watch for everyone and will likely be most enjoyable for those intrigued by the premise and/or those who are already fans of the comedy horror genre. It’s a fun ride with moments of brilliance, but Satanic Panic doesn’t do enough to truly stand out.
Satanic Panic starts playing in theaters and becomes available on digital/demand Friday, September 6th. It is 88 minutes long and not rated.
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