REVIEW: SOFT AND QUIET (2022) is necessary horror

There are no supernatural monsters in this film. No witless jumpscares. No superficial suspense. However, I appreciate the decision to label it as a horror film because it exposes genuine human monsters who reside within our communities, causing havoc among those they deem inferior.
Orly Agawin

The film starts with Emily (Stephanie Estes) taking a pregnancy test and experiencing an emotional reaction to the results, which are withheld from the audience. The camera follows her as she exits the bathroom, clutching what appears to be homemade baked goods, while she walks with purpose. We soon discover she is an elementary school teacher as she sits with a student awaiting his parent's arrival. Emily emerges as a relatable figure, an ordinary white woman facing personal struggles yet aiming to mold young minds.

The façade of innocence is quickly dismantled as Director Beth du Araujo introduces seemingly benign characters only to unveil their underlying intentions. This becomes evident in Emily's conversation with her young student, instructing him to reprimand a woman of color who is cleaning, citing a fabricated reason related to slippery floors. Her words carry a venomous edge aimed at humiliating a woman simply performing her job, all the while sowing seeds of racism in the child's mind.

From there, the narrative takes a dark plunge. Emily attends a church meeting alongside fellow attendees who appear as typical middle-class white wives and mothers, with a sprinkle of younger women. Initially, the meeting's purpose is vague until the camera reveals Emily's cherry pie adorned with a swastika carved into its crust.

The camera lingers on this image, with the pie's juices resembling blood oozing from an open wound. This stark contrast between an all-American homemade pie and a symbol of Nazi hatred captures a powerful commentary on modern America – an exterior of wholesomeness tainted by an undercurrent of hostility towards those deemed different.

Each member of Emily's emerging far-right women's group embodies a distinct facet of white supremacy: from the radicalized punk to the embittered Boomer, the homeschooling housewife, and the entrenched legacy racist. Their justifications for their prejudiced perspectives cover a wide spectrum as it envokes notions of "common sense," "pride in heritage," and "reverse racism." They contend that the movement began with Black Lives Matter and emphasize that they harbor no hatred toward anyone; they're simply safeguarding their way of life. These familiar catchphrases have circulated in political engagement over the past several years. De Araújo methodically presents each of these perspectives, which the actions of her characters will later dismantle.

From then on, SOFT AND QUIET (2022) descends into an abyss of disgust. The women casually spew slurs and hate speech, seamlessly weaving their toxic opinions into conversations about the weather. They form a group named the Daughters of Aryan Unity, and the hate-filled rhetoric escalates into violence and hate crimes through a disturbing home invasion.

The film unfolds in real-time. It employs a single continuous take that pulls the viewer into the core of the group's dynamics. This is particularly evident in the initial meeting sequence, as the camera circles the group and captures each attendee's face. Here, the viewer is virtually in the room, listening in on the conversation, with du Araujo and cinematographer Greta Zozula ensuring the audience remains engaged. The absence of breaks denies viewers the opportunity to disengage from the disturbing content. The final shot finally allows a moment to take a breath and confront the reality woven into the film's fabric.

This debut film's impact is driven by the performances, which are strikingly believable to the point of discomfort. Stephanie Estes portrays Emily with icy confidence, fully embodying her conviction in her twisted mission. Olivia Luccardi's portrayal of Leslie, initially introduced as reserved and gentle, evolves as her true nature surfaces. Estes and Luccardi become foils for each other, embodying characters who share a disturbing vision yet differ in their willingness to embrace white supremacy. Luccardi's ability to transform Leslie into a reprehensible villain is both captivating and deeply unsettling.

According to a press release, filmmaker de Araújo shares that her film draws inspiration from the viral incident in May 2020 involving a white woman named Amy Cooper, who harassed Black bird watcher Christian Cooper in Central Park. While the characters' actions in her film are more extreme, they mirror everyday occurrences. The film highlights that white supremacy is not limited to men in hoods and cross burnings; it pervades various aspects of society, from suburban elementary schools to locally owned convenience stores. The film shows how white women often play a pivotal role in upholding this subtle yet insidious form of racism, which de Araújo refers to as "soft and quiet."

Du Araújo's cinematic devices come together to create a repulsive yet imperative narrative – one that white individuals, particularly white women, should confront to understand the pervasive reality of racism and the daily propagation of Nazi ideology. SOFT AND QUIET illustrates that the danger facing America is not confined to politics; it exists within teachers, business owners, mothers, and more. Du Araujo seeks to compel white audiences to grapple with this unsettling truth, particularly when awareness is more crucial than ever.

There are no supernatural monsters in this film. No witless jumpscares. No superficial suspense. However, I appreciate the decision to label it as a horror film because it exposes genuine human monsters who reside within our communities, causing havoc among those they deem inferior.

Despite proclamations of support, well-meaning intentions, and performative social media posts, numerous white individuals still grapple with comprehending the notion of white privilege, the subtle variations of racism, and how women exploit their perceived fragility to perpetuate white supremacy. Du Araujo's creation is a searing and essential reflection of the present cultural panorama. From the compelling portrayals by Estes and Luccardi to the persistent tension of the continuous shot that crescendos into a jolting finale, SOFT AND QUIET not only establishes itself as the most unsettling film of 2022 but potentially one of the most disquieting of the 21st century.

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