‘Soft & Quiet’ Review: Disturbingly Well-Crafted

Kevin Taft reviews Soft & Quiet, a well-made yet disturbing thriller that is anything but what the title suggests.
User Rating: 9

While most will look to the recent Speak No Evil as the feel-bad/most disturbing movie of the year, I would posit Soft & Quiet for that honor (Albeit with one nice twist that makes it not as ultimately depressing as that Norwegian thriller).

Directed by Beth de Araújo in her full-length debut, this accomplished first feature is an unnerving look at how extremists can take their bigotry to dangerous places in the blink of an eye.

Shot in one take (or at least that’s what it seems), the entire film takes place in real-time over the course of a late afternoon. Kindergarten teacher Emily (Stefanie Estes) is heading off to a local church for a cryptic meeting she has arranged for a group of women. The focus of the meeting is unclear, but she joyfully arrives with a pie in hand to greet the others.

On the way, she runs into Leslie (Olivia Luccardi), whom Emily is initially suspicious of, but she discovers was invited to the meeting by a friend. Relieved, the two join the others, and the meeting begins. But what is this mysterious meeting, and why was Emily so concerned about a stranger in their midst? The reveal of her pie says it all. (Mild Spoilers Ahead)

As she pulls off Reynold’s wrap, she reveals a berry pie with a swastika carved into the top. She plays it off as a joke while the others giggle and enjoy the dessert. It is then we see that Emily has initiated the first meeting of the “Daughters of the Ayran Sisterhood” and that everyone at the meeting is concerned about their “race” being wiped out.

While a few of the women seem hesitant at first – like maybe they made a mistake in coming – once they share some concerns in their lives that involve race (a promotion going to a person of color, for example), the women all get worked up, and a sense of misguided camaraderie is formed.

When they are kicked out of the church by a minister who realizes what they are meeting there for, a few of the women decide to go back to Emily’s for some wine. But when they stop at a convenience store owned by one of the group’s members Kim (Dana Millican), a series of events occur involving two mixed-race Asian customers that become increasingly incendiary.

This leads to the group getting so riled up that they make rash decisions that go from cruel, to vicious, to deadly.

It’s best to leave the plot details here so audiences can be taken along for the ride. Whether that’s a fun ride is the question, but what is clear is this is a realistic look at how far extremist views can be taken and the dangers of group hysteria.

The cast in this very well-acted and written film is all-around excellent. It can’t be easy to play such hateful people, and the scenes involving Anne (Melissa Paulo) and Lily (Cissy Ly), the customers just trying to buy wine, must have been stressful for everyone involved.

The single-take gimmick, thankfully, doesn’t play like one. It shows the audience how quickly ideas can escalate into action and blow up before anyone stops to think about what they are doing. It allows the audience to follow seemingly benign-appearing women who, underneath the visage of a teacher or shop owner, lays a threat just waiting to be released. Or, in their eyes, permission to be released. As director Araújo notes in her director’s statement, “I don’t want to provide you relief. You’re not watching monsters nor ‘those racists over there.’ You’re watching human beings do monstrous things.”

Luccardi has the showiest role in this department as she seems friendly and forthright at first but quickly becomes the threatening mouthpiece of the group.

Estes does great work with the subtleties of her character, who has ingrained bigotry, but recent personal news just makes her helplessness and rage all the more potent. At the same time, she allows us to momentarily see her doubt about what she is doing and maybe even what she stands for.

Araújo’s script is an upsetting one, and rightly so, but she handles it with a realism that makes you understand how a segment of people interpret certain situations. While it’s easy to dismiss these women’s philosophies, the dialogue shows you just how easy it is to work up righteous people who believe they are being wronged.

When it comes to the horror that arrives in the film’s third act, it is unbelievably distressing and hard to watch. Thankfully two of the most horrific incidents are left off-camera, but not so much that we don’t know exactly what’s happening. And it is disturbing.

Thankfully, the film is not without its hope which is not only a relief but rare in the bleakness of the horror films as of late that end with a despair that feels punishing just to be punishing.

This under-the-radar kinda-sorta horror pic from Momentum and Blumhouse offers up a fresh writer/director who comes in soft and quiet until she punches you in the gut and screams in your face, which is exactly what horror needs to do.

‘Soft & Quiet’ opens in select theaters and will be available on VOD starting November 4, 2022.

Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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