A scary element in racism is that its poison can often be silent. Regularly, some of the most overt offenders of prejudice don’t come with hoods or insignia; they operate within daily parts of society. One thought passed down through a generation can damage hundreds of people, and so on. Emily (Stefanie Estes) is a school teacher who the audience first sees as dejected and crying, holding a negative pregnancy test. As with the continual camera takes that Soft & Quiet utilizes, Emily’s attention quickly turns to a Mexican cleaning lady—looking back at her with a disgusted sneer. When a student named Brian (Jayden Leavitt) sits alone and waits for his mother to pick him up, Emily waits beside him. She offers to let him read a “children’s book” she’s working on, although the words read are muffled by the sound of the cleaning lady. It’s then where Emily tells the child to admonish the lady, claiming he needs to “stand up for himself and be assertive.”
Something is very wrong here, but writer/director Beth de Araújo slightly tips her hand to the viewer on how uncomfortable things will get. The center of Soft & Quiet happens at a get-together composed of all white women at a local church. Someone like Leslie (Olivia Luccardi) is entirely new and fresh out of prison, looking to make new friends. Others, like Kim (Dana Millican), who owns a local store in town, have been friends with Emily for a while. At first, everything looks innocent, as a weekly book club meeting. However, when Emily reveals her homemade pie, it reveals a symbol of hate. Then, the meeting is shown to be the beginnings of a white supremacist meetup. Araújo and cinematographer Greta Zozula keep the viewer fixated on everything that will make them nauseous. For almost twenty minutes, the women go around round-robin style and run the gauntlet of racial stereotypes.
A new face named Marjorie (Eleanore Pienta) is angry because a Colombian woman got promoted before she did and claims it was only because of “diversity” standards. Others claim there is “nothing left for them in this country” and blame several ethnic and minority groups for it. It’s women from all different generations speaking about needs for “homeschooling” and ways they could spread their message; it’s horrifying. Intertwined in all that is a principle, they have to look “appealing” to men and denounce modern “feminism.” In the center is Emily, fanning the flames of racist discontent to make herself feel better for the shortcomings in her own life. As a viewer is watching and hearing this occur, two lines of thought may come to mind. These conversations are so overly laced with vitriol that it feels fantastical. Once you get over the shock, there’s the paranoia in thinking how many rooms harbor hate sessions like these.
Araújo smartly uses this as a background for the following acts. Soft & Quiet moves at a breakneck pace, like the emotions this cabal of women moves towards. Everything comes to a head in Kim’s store when two young Asian sisters, Lily (Cissy Ly) and Anne (Melissa Paulo), try to buy wine. They are automatically met with epithets and insults, and when the sisters decide to defend themselves, the makeshift hate group decides to take it upon themselves to get payback. This is where Soft & Quiet goes into more dangerous and heartbreaking territory.
Hate and anger together fuel an excess of irrational and alarming actions. Araújo, with her first film, shows that the monsters we fear are often walking among us every single day. They can act as a whisper of action to children or as an arm of media spreading their unfounded messages. Many will winch when they watch Soft & Quiet, either because they’ve experienced the fangs of white supremacy or because they choose to indulge in it.
Photo Credit: Blumhouse