Horror

‘Soft & Quiet’ Is A Disturbing But Necessary Watch [Review]


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Soft & Quiet

Just a few years ago, I worked at a nonprofit. While we were servicing communities that were predominantly made up of BIPOC city residents, my coworkers and I were almost all white women. It wasn’t until this job that my eyes were opened to the racism, cruelty, and manipulation that white women are capable of. From gaslighting employees of color to exploiting people of color for fundraising materials, my time there was mostly spent observing in horror the mental gymnastics white women do to make themselves appear innocent. And while I tried to speak up and be an ally for my coworkers, I was still a white woman participating in and benefiting from these structures of power. These memories all came rushing back while watching Beth du Araujo’s debut feature film Soft & Quiet, a horrifying and necessary look at the racism, white supremacy, hate, and sinister intentions that exist within white women.

The film opens with Emily (Stephanie Estes) taking a pregnancy test and crying at the results, which aren’t revealed to the audience. The camera follows her as she leaves the bathroom, grabs what looks like a homemade baked good, and begins walking with purpose. It’s revealed she’s an elementary school teacher as she sits with a student as they wait for their mom to pick them up. From her visceral reaction to the pregnancy test to showing she’s a teacher, Emily seems sympathetic, an everyday white woman with her own struggles who wants to help shape the minds of America. But then she quickly starts to reveal her true nature.

Just as soon as du Araujo introduces a seemingly innocent character, she rips apart the air of good intentions. It all starts with a conversation she has with her young student where she instructs him to reprimand a cleaning lady, who is a woman of color, for the made-up reason of mopping the floor before he leaves. He could slip after all! Her words are tinged with venom, with the sole purpose of humiliating a woman just doing her job while also trying to teach this kid racism.

From there, it only gets worse as Emily walks to a meeting in a church, where all the attendees seem like your average white middle-class wives and mothers with a sprinkling of younger women. Their meeting purpose is opaque at first. Until the reveal of Emily’s cherry pie with a swastika carved into its crust. The camera lingers on this image, the juices of the innards leaking out like blood from a festering wound. The All-American nature of a homebaked pie contrasted with a symbol of Nazi hatred paints a succinct picture of America today: seemingly wholesome but actually filled with hatred towards those deemed less than.

From there, Soft & Quiet descends into nauseating hell. The women spew slurs and hate speech as casually as if they were talking about the weather. There’s no hesitation to share their opinions and decide to name their group the Daughters of Aryan Unity. And it only gets worse from there as the group runs into a pair of sisters who are women of color, one of which was raped by Emily’s brother. From here, the hate speech and spewing of Nazi rhetoric escalate into actual violence and hate crimes via home invasion.

The entirety of Soft & Quiet unfolds in real-time via a single long take that implicates the viewer as part of the group. This is most apparent during the initial meeting sequence as the camera circles the group and momentarily focuses on the faces of each attendee. It’s like we are actively listening in the room with them, and du Araujo and cinematographer Greta Zozula don’t want us to look away. The long take doesn’t give the viewer a chance to catch their breath and distance themselves from these women. The final shot is at last a chance to gasp for air and grapple with the reality imbued in the film.

Soft & Quiet hinges on believable performances and wow are they believable to the point of concern. Estes plays Emily with icy confidence. Emily is happy with her worldview, she has no doubts or anxiety around her beliefs; she 100% believes in her twisted mission and Estes embodies that, creating a terrifying horror movie villain. Then, there’s Olivia Luccardi as newcomer Leslie who begins, well, soft and quiet, but evolves into something else as her true nature is revealed. Estes and Luccardi are foils to one another as their characters, while having the same disgusting vision, each reveals how far they’re willing to go in the name of white supremacy. Luccardi’s ability to twist Leslie into a despicable villain is fascinating and terrifying to behold.

This all comes together into a repulsive yet necessary package that every white person, especially white women, needs to experience to truly understand the extent of the reality of racism and the Nazi rhetoric that is spewed on a daily basis. America is dangerous and Soft & Quiet deftly reflects how that danger isn’t just happening with politicians; it’s happening with teachers, business owners, mothers, and more. Du Araujo wants white viewers to understand this reality because it’s needed now more than ever.

No matter the declarations of allyship, good intentions, and performative social posts, most white people still don’t fully grasp the concept of white privilege, the insidiousness of different forms of racism, and how women weaponize their assumed timid nature to sow the seeds of white supremacy. Du Araujo has created a searing, terrifying, and necessary look at the current cultural climate. From incredible performances from Estes and Luccardi to the tense long take that builds to an explosive finale, Soft & Quiet is a contender for the scariest movie of not just 2022, but of the 21st century.

Summary

From incredible performances to the tense long take that builds to an explosive finale, Soft & Quiet is a contender for the scariest movie of not just 2022, but of the 21st century.

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