Hardly for the first time, Blumhouse has its name on a horror melodrama fueled by a strong pulse of politically topical blood running through its veins, this time with the ironically titled Soft & Quiet. In fact, Beth de Araújo’s debut feature is far more notable for its throbbing political outrage than for its dramatic credibility, which becomes increasingly hard to swallow as the yarn unravels. But righteous young and lefty audiences will enjoy getting cranked up by the increasingly outrageous behavior exhibited by a group of aggrieved and incensed right-wing women whose idea of taking matters into their own hands goes more than a bit too far.
If it weren’t for the up-front ideological issues propelling the action here, the writer-director’s bow would certainly have been most noted for her decision to deliver the 91-minute film in one take, even though this feat has now been accomplished in at least 40 previous films, admittedly very few of them commercial ones.
All the same, the driving force behind this nearly all-female enterprise—both behind and before the camera—is political outrage, specifically that triggered in liberal-lefty circles by the perceived retrograde, take-the-law-into-your-own-hands attitudes of many on the far right. The particular actions taken by the more aggressive women in the film are so unmotivated, far-fetched and extreme as to seem flat-out ridiculous dramatically. But in this era, one can be forgiven for imaging anything is possible, so most viewers will probably be unbothered by the wacky and heedless behavior on display.
In a lovely, verdant area that looks like the Pacific Northwest, the 30ish, well-accoutered blonde kindergarten teacher Emily (Stefanie Estes) prepares to host a little gathering of local women that, what with the cakes and pies and so on, at first glance seems like a typical faculty moms’ get-together. But the pie decorated with a swastika is an eyebrow-raiser, as is the Daughters for Aryan Unity sign, so it doesn’t take more than a minute or two for this seemingly benign female social gathering to morph into a modern bund meeting.
“Multi-culturalism doesn’t work,” one woman wails, and a flood of curdled complaints follows about “the Jew banks,” immigrants, gays, you name it. What seems at the outset like a nice little tea-time gathering morphs into a contest about who can be the most racist and insulting, a transformation that is both startling and, in the rapidity with which the women reveal their ghastly prejudices, more than a bit over the top.
But that’s nothing compared to what follows. Greta Zozula’s hand-held camera follows the six women as they make their way to a convenience store, where a couple of them unaccountably get into a tussle with a couple of female Asian employees, whom they insult, fight and, in short order, bundle up and take up to a remote house. Upon arrival, things get shockingly out of hand, to the point where even Emily’s strong and more clear-thinking husband (Jon Beavers) can’t do anything about it.
Although there’s clearly a cultural divide between the more cultivated women, epitomized by Emily, and the impulsive act-now/think-things-through-later ruffians, violent emotions and deep-seated prejudices sweep aside any possibility of moderation or civility. The physical handling of the kidnapping and subsequent dire events is cursory to the point of sloppiness, and it may be that the pressure to pull off a convincing abduction and dire aftermath in the one-take format was just too much to stage convincingly. To sacrifice dramatic clarity and visceral intensity for the sake of one-take bragging rights seems in this instance like a bad bargain. Who would care if there were a few edits?
All the same, the very palpable residue of post-Trump social instability and political malaise makes itself felt at every moment. Soft & Quiet is half-filmmaking stunt and half-dire alarm about the social and political fissures that continue to break around locally and internationally. This film’s treatment of the issues is erratic, highly extremist and less than fully coherent, but the turbulent and troubled impulses behind it are easy to discern.
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