The Movie Waffler SXSW 2022 Review - SOFT & QUIET | The Movie Waffler

SXSW 2022 Review - SOFT & QUIET

soft & quiet review
A meeting of female white supremacists takes a violent turn.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Beth de Araujo

Starring: Stefanie Estes, Olivia Luccardi, Eleanore Pienta, Dana Millican, Melissa Paulo, Jon Beavers, Cissy Ly

Judging by American movies, you would think all racists were illiterate working class redneck men. American cinema likes to portray racists in such a cartoonish manner so as not to offend white people. "I'm nothing like that guy," such movies allow well-educated, middle class white people to reassure themselves. How refreshing then to get a movie in which the racists aren't a group of burly, bearded hicks with Confederate flag tattoos but rather a group of (mostly) well-groomed, well educated women who might be mistaken for your typical soccer moms.

That's how writer/director Beth de Araujo presents the villains of her intense thriller Soft & Quiet. "The media like to paint us as these, like, big scary monsters," one of her antagonists says of her white supremacist kin, but with a name like De Araujo, I'm guessing this filmmaker knows that the main threat to minorities comes not from the powerless working class but from the middle classes. From people like Emily (Stefanie Estes), a well-spoken and well-presented kindergarten teacher with the looks of a model.

soft & quiet review

When we meet Emily first she's carrying a tinfoil covered pie to a meeting of similar women held in a spare room of a small church. When she removes the foil we see she has cut a swastika into the crust. It's an early sign that like so many people that fall into such movements, Emily isn't fully committed, as no true Nazi would disrespect their iconography in such a manner. Unable to get pregnant, Emily seems to have developed a need to lash out at someone, and as she's not the sort of person to blame her God, she's picked those who don’t look like her.

Emily is joined by a few women much like her, well off small businesswomen whose concerns range from their worries at how "the Jews" control the media and the banks to how annoying they find the "coloured kids" who frequent their shops. There are also a couple of working class women who stick out among Emily and her friends. Leslie (Olivia Luccardi) is an ex-con converted to the Aryan cause by her cellmates, while Marjorie (Eleanore Pienta) is a minimum wage worker who blames her financial woes on diversity initiatives. Aside from the hateful rhetoric, the meeting goes like any other get-together between a group of women. This could be a book club, if the book were Mein Kampf.

soft & quiet review

Things escalate when the group is kicked out by a priest who overhears their talk. Stopping off at one of their shops to pick up some wine, they get into an argument with a pair of immigrant women, one of whom was the rape victim of Emily's incarcerated brother. The women decide to play a "practical joke" by breaking into the home of these women, and that's where things take a turn towards violence.

De Araujo opens her movie in a manner that might lead you to believe it's a satire. The gripes of this bunch of harpies are so clichéd that it's impossible not to laugh. But by the movie's second act it's no laughing matter as the film takes a turn into grindhouse territory. Like a gender reversal of the infamous video nasty Fight for Your Life, Soft & Quiet puts the viewer in the uncomfortable position of watching some of the most loathsome people imaginable act out with ruthless cruelty. The movie's second act is as intense a viewing experience as you could imagine, and I suspect it may be too much for some viewers to endure.

soft & quiet review

The movie is shot as though filmed in one unbroken take. Early on it feels like a gimmick, as there are some moments where the camera is simply following a character from point A to point B where a cut might have sufficed. But what De Araujo's real time filmmaking does is reinforce the intensity of the rapid escalation from rhetoric to physical cruelty. There are two ways you might view this. You might decide that this is an argument for censorship, that any hateful talk should be stamped out immediately. Personally I have the opposite mindset. I'd much rather bigots were exposed in the open rather than hiding out in church backrooms while presenting a smiling face to the rest of the world. If bigots only speak openly among themselves, how are the rest of us supposed to confront them?

After the intensity of the second act, Soft & Quiet struggles to find a conclusion, ending in a sequence at dusk that's so dark it's practically impossible to see what's going on. But I appreciate its willingness not to wrap anything in a bow. Unlike the exploitation movies of the '70s it feels inspired by, this isn't a revenge movie. This is Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, but without the villains' comeuppance. It's a reminder that in real life victims don’t get to take revenge, only society can do that for them.

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