"Soft & Quiet" a one-take panic attack that enrages, startles, and impresses

Soft & Quiet (2022)

Just imagine following around a group of Ann Coulters, and that should give you a sense of what you’re in for during all of “Soft & Quiet,” a cinematic panic attack. Playing out in real time from the points of view of female white supremacists who look like book club members, the film is an impressive feat for being writer-director Beth de Araújo’s directorial debut. It may not be the first nor the last film to be shot in one continous take, but the immediacy de Araújo and her actors capture in that filmmaking choice cannot be denied. Transcending all post-"Russian Ark" gimmickry, this is a staggering piece of work that gets your blood boiling and torments your nerves.

We first meet Emily (Stefanie Estes), an icily composed kindergarten teacher who’s about to leave for the day. Barely keeping it together in the privacy of a restroom stall, she has just taken a pregnancy test that does not give her the result she wanted. Leaving the restroom, Emily sneers at the custodian, a woman of color, and then asks one of her students, who’s late to be picked up, to tell the custodian that he could have slipped from her mopping too early. From there, Emily goes through the woods, with baked goods in hand, to meet a group of like-minded white women for their first club meeting in a church. Emily is the organizer of this group called “The Daughters of Aryan Unity," and given their shared ideology, she wants to jumpstart a magazine to get their white-power message out there during this time of "multicultural warfare." Of the women, there’s ex-convict Leslie (Olivia Luccardi); Leslie’s boss, store owner Kim (Dana Millican); newbie Marjorie (Eleanore Pienta); Jessica (Shannon Mahoney), a KKK member and mother of four with a fifth on the way; and note-taker Alice (Rebekah Wiggins). Once Emily decides to take the party elsewhere, she and a few of them stop by Kim’s general store to get more wine. There’s a confrontation between this group and two Asian sisters (Melissa Paulo, Cissy Ly), and things grow increasingly more volatile.

Rightfully described as a “runaway train” in the press notes by the filmmaker herself, “Soft & Quiet” is blistering and visceral as any horror film. The film does require a leap of faith (Emily has no problem knowing where someone lives and that someone just happens to know about Emily's brother's prison sentence), and it enters more familiar territory as it goes along, but these quibbles don't make any of it any less riveting to watch. Filmmaker Beth De Araújo’s one-take approach is admirable and does make a difference, and though not without a few mannered moments even before tempers run high, the performances are startlingly strong. 

Infuriating by design and confrontational, “Soft & Quiet” is going to be a hard, uncomfortable sit for many. If it handled its subject matter with kid gloves or changed perspective from this group of women, it might not be as effective. We could know any of these horrible, reprehensible women in our own lives, hiding their hateful beliefs behind owning a business, being pregnant, and even educating impressionable children. As soon as Miss Emily unwraps her homemade pie to reveal a swastika—something she meant as a joke—it’s clear what kind of women we are dealing with here: irrational and full of hate in their hearts. Finding a different way into the conversation of racism, “Soft & Quiet” will make you furious and leave you shaken. 

Grade: B +

Momentum Pictures and Blumhouse are releasing “Soft & Quiet” (91 min.) in theaters and VOD on November 4, 2022.