Directed by: Beth de Araújo
Distributed by: Blumhouse
Written by: Patrick Hao
“Soft & Quiet” is a post-Trump era film in all the worst ways. Premiering at SXSW for an eager audience that would cheer and snicker at the type of behavior on film, Beth de Araujo’s debut feature says nothing and accomplishes nothing but pats on the backs for owning the right. Presented as a single-take film, de Araújo’s film is audacious with a forceful vision. The soft and quiet the title refers to a group of women meeting up for a Daughters of Aryan Unity meeting. The leader is Emily (Stefanie Estes), a second-grade teacher who looks prim and proper. You wouldn’t give her a second look. The same can be said about her cohorts which consist of a new recruit in Leslie (Olivia Luccardi), long-time friend Kim (Dana Millican), and others. Yet, Araújo’s goals are to portray the ways ideas and talking points start emboldening each other, a festering of hate that can be truly dangerous.
The meeting is also as prim and proper as it gets. There is a potluck of desserts, including a Swastika emblazoned apple pie, coffee, and a sun lit room with the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest. Then they begin talking, spewing some of the real talking points that have been making their way around YouTube. Yet, this is where the film begins to go off the rails. Both the filmmaking and the goal of the filmmakers are fundamentally opposed to each other. The one take movie is an easy way to develop urgency and tension. You do not want to be in the room with these people. It can also create a heightened sense of realism. These women, however, are not real people. Rather, they are straw men developed by the filmmakers. Once again, this is not to diminish these talking points as being fake. There are plenty of YouTube talking heads saying these exact same words. But, in the presentation, “Soft & Quiet” strains credibility.
This is not helped by the fact that the one take style also means that de Araújo cannot get the best takes possible from her actresses. Oftentimes, the performances come off as wooden or stagey, especially due to the long monologues of hate some of them are given. The thing is, Araújo wants to believe that she is revealing something with how hatred can come from an unsuspected place. But being a leftist myself, this is exactly what I expect. It all comes off as preaching to the choir, self-congratulations for an audience that is already receptive to such.
The second half of the film has this gaggle of white supremacists having a verbal altercation with Asian sisters, Anne (Melissa Paulo) and Lily (Cissy Ly). What follows is a series of decisions by the women that is so outlandish that it borders on parody. It does not help that the action sequences stay true to the one take concept and become outright sloppy filmmaking. Editing is a tool.
The voice is loud and passionate. But there does not seem to be much consideration beneath the vigor. Is this film a horror satire? Because at the end of the day, I do not know what the film is truly trying to satirize.
“Soft & Quiet” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the SXSW Film Festival.
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