SOFT & QUIET – movie review


Momentum Pictures/Blumhouse Productions
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Beth de Araújo
Screenwriter: Beth de Araújo
Cast: Stefanie Estes, Olivia Luccardi, Eleanore Pienta, Dana Millican, Melissa Paulo, Jon Beavers, Cissy Ly, Nina E. Jordan, Rebekah Wiggins, Jayden Leavitt, Jovita Molina, Shannon Mahoney
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/8/22
Opens: November 4, 2022

The Supreme Court will shortly hand down a ruling on affirmative action which, if the court decides that previous rulings were wrongly determined will put a dent in the policy. Specifically, the justices will decide whether colleges can consider race among the factors to determine admissions. Now, if you are against affirmative action, this does not make you a racist. There are legitimate grounds to believe, as does Chief Justice Roberts, that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” If the colleges lose their prerogative, it is not likely that even those who are denied admission to prestigious universities will pick up guns and commit violence.

Really? Once you watch Beth de Araújo’s debut as writer-director of “Soft & Quiet,” you may change your mind. Araújo believes that hate could transform into violence, as we saw most dramatically in the January 6 riots in the Capitol, when a large group that included members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, extreme white supremacists, turned their hatred of what some had believed was a fraudulent attempt to throw out moderates and overturn the election.

The lesson: hate may lead to violence even in the most unlikely people. Consider a group of women led by Emily (Stefanie Estes), a kindergarten teacher in a Midwestern rural area. She and a group of other white Christian women are about to transform their political right to hold extreme views into a blood-curdling episode of stomach-churning ferocity. Holding an evening meeting in a church that at first looks as though they were planning a bake sale, Emily turns up with a cherry pie (how American can you get?) but with a swastika drawn across its dimensions (not so American). The group refer to themselves as Aryans, each of the pissed off women exposing her hostility to people of color. Emily had opened the tale by telling a kid in her kindergarten class to tell off the school’s janitor, ostensibly for washing the floor even though the boy might slip and hurt himself. “Stand up for yourself,” she notes, which she will soon do in a way that you would never think these ladies would do.

Leslie (Olivia Luccardi), a former jailbird, goes to the meeting when invited by Kim (Dana Millican), owner of a grocery store in the town. Marjorie (Eleanore Pienta) is denied a promotion in a favor of a woman from Colombia and refuses to believe the boss’s explanation that the Colombian had better leadership abilities. The usual right-wing laundry list of grievances gets heard, as the women blame people of color for their problems. “The Jew banks love to say ‘no’ to borrowers.” “The Blacks are loud and disrespectful.” “Jews run the media.” Surprisingly, Hollywood does not come into their grievances.

So far, these characters are doing nothing illegal. They are free to speak as long as they do not provoke violence or commit illegal acts themselves. But here is what makes this film unusual. For one thing, the writer-director captures images on a single take, to give the impression that what will occur is a train wreck. For another, she wants to wake the country up to a dangerous possibility that mayhem will occur. By presenting the chaos with the kind of violence that would in the past have given this movie an NC-17 rating, Beth de Araújo demands that her audience witness such atrocities that they would have trouble turning away. That, she appears to believe, is what is in store for America if hatred, based on racism, transforms into pandemonium.

When the women, after being chased out of the church by the pastor, go to Kim’s convenience store for wine, they get into an argument with two Asian customers Anne (Melissa Paulo) and Lily (Cissy Ly). They “Aryans” want to teach them a lesson that they will never forget. They break into their expensive house, the two residents arrive home before they were expected, and the bedlam erupts.

As for why Araújo introduces her feature with holy terror, as the women all shout at the two hapless homeowners, beat them, strangle them, the director has stated that “independent films have been coddling audiences,” that “KKK member[s]…movements are growing, not shrinking” She opposes “films that seek to comfort their audiences around racism and white supremacy—to remind them of the same old false narratives that…uphold white supremacy.”

With this film, Emily, who had urged her followers to avoid hard selling of their views by being soft and quiet, appears unable to stick to her plans simply to send out newsletters, or known on doors, or do peaceful things that are within the law. The message is that once you hate, there is no telling what you may do. Mission accomplished.

92 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B