Signal Horizon

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{Movie Review} Soft & Quiet

Hell is a suburban book club where everyone is super into reading Mein Kempf. Or at least director
Beth de Araújo hypothesizes as much. Having survived the Trump administration and the pandemic as a public school teacher I can concur. The past two years have seen a rise in white nationalism and fascistic behavior from the most mundane of groups. Local school boards and parent-teacher associations have been infiltrated by a group of far-right political actors who do not want to make education better but want to bring the culture wars to our classrooms. Soft & Quiet offers us an afternoon glance at what might happen if one of these groups is given the power and opportunity to do what they want. In short, it is not pretty. Soft & Quiet is important and compelling and difficult to watch. It is horror in that familiar way that makes all of us side-eye our MAGA hat-wearing neighbor.

Emily (Stefanie Estes) is an elementary school teacher who is having difficulty getting pregnant. She also happens to be a charter member of a group of concerned white women who get together regularly to talk about how the country is being ruined by woke radical leftists and brown people. They are essentially the Ku Klux Karens. Estes’ performance is at times manic and desperate, making the audience feel that we are constantly lurching from scene to scene. One scenario more fraught than the previous. The movie follows Emily as she finishes her day as a teacher and goes directly to the neo nazi meeting she sponsors. As the meeting progresses we meet the other members of her group (some of which wear their nazi colors on their sleeves, like literally). Once the official meeting ends a smaller group continues to discuss how to turn thought into action over wine. A chance encounter at the store gives them that misguided opportunity and the day slips out of control. What follows is a brutal if a very on-the-nose account of what can happen when we allow fascists room to breathe. Hyperbolic speech leads to action no one could see coming (except we can ALL SEE IT COMING). Beth de Araújo is screaming behind the camera not just that something like this COULD happen but rather it already is.

The pacing of Soft & Quiet is so tight it only adds to the brutality we see on screen. It happens in a blink of an eye. The women lose control and people lose their lives as a result. The film does not give you time to breathe and that is the point. Once the roller coaster starts there is no getting off and if the point is that we are about to board the antidemocratic coaster then Soft & Quiet accomplishes its goals. I am terrified. The horror of the film comes in the recognizable archetypes we see every day. More like movies like The Humans which offers its own bleak outlook on the world Soft & Quiet doesn’t need monsters because we all have those monsters in us. It is almost like this country was built on the backs of slaves and the monsters who tormented them.

Adequately shot and lit the movie has a dreary patina that reflects the subject matter. It feels like a film shot in Washington state for the unique political demographics of the region and the glumness of the filter works well. Technically the film is excellent. Everyone involved is on the same page and that passion and direction make the art exquisite even if it is hard to watch at moments. Soft & Quiet will go right into the folder of films I am glad I watched once but have zero desire to ever watch again (looking right at you Requiem for a Dream).

If the movie has any flaws it would be that its brutality makes it more than a drama or a thriller, but its lack of horror tropes and other indicators make it hard to classify as true horror. Even in the age of elevated horror, it would be difficult to characterize Soft & Quiet as horror. The deadly seriousness of the movie makes it not a lot of fun to watch. By the end of the film, I just wanted the nightmare to end. That is more or less how I felt about the Trump administration. At some point, you just get sick of the cruelty of it all. I think maybe that was the point. You can check out Soft & Quiet on VOD now.

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