It’s often said that money is the root of all evil, and while over the course of all human history that might be true, in the modern era, it’s becoming more clear that white supremacy is the root of all relevant evils in our world. For those unaffected, they might not even realize the atrocities being committed right underneath their noses as they have benefitted from the power structures that have helped uphold such views, even if one doesn’t share said views. The fact of the matter is that while the days of the white-sheeted Klan as the norm for violent racists has passed, a new danger has arisen in a quieter, more covert placement of white supremacists in our mists. Through an indoctrination via social media and far-right politics, these “fringe” ideas are more mainstream than ever, and therein lies the horror in Beth De Araújo’s Soft & Quiet, a film that approaches and discusses modern white supremacy in a way no film before it has, for better and for worse.
Emily (Stefanie Estes) is an elementary school teacher who spends her time caring for students left alone after school, is trying very hard to get pregnant with her longtime boyfriend, Craig (Jon Beavers), and just so happens to be a virulent Neo-Nazi white supremacist organizing a meeting of like-minded women after school one day. Armed with a swastika-carved cherry pie, she and the other women begin to share their views on various minority groups, how they feel multiculturalism has ruined their lives, and plan how to spread their message to the mainstream public in a “soft & quiet” manner. As a few of them plan a social gathering following their meeting, their night begins to spiral out of control as they “deal” with the issue of two Asian-American women “disrespecting” them in a convenience store.
There is no amount of trigger warnings imaginable to prepare an unsuspecting audience member for what they’re about to experience in Soft & Quiet, and it’s obviously very intentional on De Araújo’s part, as anything pertaining to white supremacy should be deeply disturbing and unsettling to anyone but white supremacists. There does come a point in the film’s runtime where the film begins to veer away from a horrifying look at the pervasive presence of bigotry in society and becomes an even more uncomfortably violent, cruel horror film that doesn’t hold the same amount of smart commentary, but rather exists to solely shell-shock the audience. Again, this is absolutely intentional, but not something I would call successful as a narrative.
A double-edged sword of an impressive technical showing also ends up being one of Soft & Quiet’s biggest downfalls in that the entire film is shot in the increasingly popular “one-take” style that presents the film in a continuous, real-time shot. While this is an impressive feat for any filmmaker, actors, and other various crew members to accomplish, I find its usage in this story to feel ill-fitting to the overall narrative. There are a number of transitional sequences whether walking or in the dark backseats of vans that only reveal the narrative conceits having to be made for this format to work, and it stalls what should be an increasingly frenetic pace to something that gives a good deal less whiplash in its back half than something like this should.
Performances across the board are great…perhaps a little too great…just kidding. There’s a terrifying sense of realism that comes from these seemingly normal women that, despite the fact that I’ve seen some of these actresses in other films before, melts away with the shocking reality of these characters. The descent into racist, feverous madness as these women’s night drags on is gut-wrenching, frightening stuff that serves the film well, even once the third act goes off the rails a fair bit.
Soft & Quiet is going to be praised, vilified, easily digested for some (I don’t know how, but I’ve already seen some call the film “enjoyable,” which is…a take), difficultly reckoned with for others, and I don’t think there is necessarily an objective answer on how to take such a challenging, shocking film. Personally, I found the film’s standing as the women descend into their night of violence a bit questionable as to the point of taking the subject matter of the film in such a literal direction, but there’s also something to be said about a movie so unafraid to show what the reality is for so many people living amongst bigots in their “communities,” and as a horror film, it succeeds greatly in horrifying the audience. I just can’t quite reckon with the ways in which it seeks to sustain such horror, particularly when the film didn’t necessarily require such an escalation.
But I get it. Soft & Quiet is timely, relevant, severely unpleasant stuff that doesn’t sugarcoat a damn thing in reminding people just how normalized far-right rhetoric and white supremacy has become in the age of social media, but there also comes a point where I began to wonder what the point beyond all of that was? Yes, this is all perhaps more harrowing than any supernatural horror film I’ve seen in ages, but I never really got what the film sought to accomplish other than shock. That can get you far with the right vision and narrative, but I found the lack of any cohesive final act a detriment to what was a truly nerve-shredding first act.
Screening during the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
SXSW Screening Information:
*Saturday, March 12th, Screening @ 4:15p CT, Alamo Lamar D
*Sunday, March 13th, Online Screening @ 9a CT
*Sunday, March 13th, Screening @ 6:45pm CT, Violet Crown Cinema 2
*Sunday, March 13th, Online Screening @ 7:15pm CT, Violet Crown Cinema 4
*Thursday, March 17th, Screening @ 12:15p CT, Alamo Lamar D
For more information, head to the official SXSW webpage.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5