‘Soft & Quiet’ Terrifies Me for the Wrong Reasons
After its 2022 theatrical release, Soft & Quiet has hit Netflix. A sparse 91-minute thriller shot in real time, Soft & Quiet tells the story of a group of nice white women who meet in a church alcove for a social club. However, their girls’ night out soon dissolves into a nightmarish blur of violence and depravity.
That’s about all I can say without giving away the film’s big twist—but, honestly, the fact that Soft & Quiet depends on that twist for shock value is a significant weakness, so here goes. Warning: the rest of this article contains major spoilers for Soft & Quiet.
We soon learn that the women are Nazis, their club is a tradwife group devoted to spreading white supremacy, and their evening takes its violent turn when they decide to break into an Asian American woman’s house to steal her passport.
The first act of the film is gripping. It starts with Emily (Stephanie Estes), the kindergarten teacher who convenes the group. Right from the start, you know something’s off with Emily. She dresses like a corporate lawyer even though she spends her days surrounded by finger paints and juice boxes. When one kid’s mom is late picking him up, Emily jumps on the chance to show him a pie she baked and a children’s book she wrote. Then, when a custodian walks by, Emily comes up with an excuse to send the kid in to yell at her. Emily’s pie is the crux of the movie’s shocking revelation: when she unveils it at the club, we see that she’s decorated it with a giant swastika.
It’s macabrely fascinating to see how white supremacist women function—and quietly devour each other. True to the tradwife ethos, they’re obsessed with marriage and children, constantly talking about how many babies they’ll have and the men they’ll set each other up with. Judging from Emily’s flat, mushy pie, she clearly sucks at baking. Everyone is intensely suspicious of each other, barking out insults and slurs the moment anyone steps out of line. White supremacy is a sick fantasy that not even the most racist white person can actually live up to.
As fascinating as that first act is, though, once the cat’s out of the bag, the movie becomes weirdly predictable—and frightening for all the wrong reasons.
The group goes to a liquor store for wine, where they meet Anne (Melissa Paulo) and Lily (Cissy Ly), two Asian American sisters with whom they have a fraught history. When Anne and Lily stand up to them, the white women are so upset that they decide to break into their home. Between that moment and all the violence in the trailer, you know Anne and Lily are doomed—and sure enough, when they get home, Emily and her friends panic and kill them. (Sort of. More on that in a bit.)
The problem is that the murder and coverup make up the entire rest of the movie. They kill the sisters and dump their bodies in a lake. That’s it. There’s no reckoning or comeuppance for Emily’s gang. There’s no moment where the women seriously question the paths their lives have taken. There’s no real insight into how or why white supremacy spreads. There’s just the ugly, brain-rotting racism itself, and the grotesque violence it spawns.
Another peculiar aspect of the movie is that while it rightly calls out white women’s enthusiastic support of Nazism, it seems to let white men off the hook. The pastor of the church where Emily books a room kicks the group out when he realizes what kind of club she’s running. Emily’s husband is so reluctant to help her commit a hate crime that she resorts to slapping and insulting him to get him on board. Racist communities do in fact depend on upholding strict traditional gender roles but the movie didn’t quite communicate this real-life dynamic. Instead, it seems to suggest that it’s women—and not men—who are spearheading the modern resurgence of Nazism. It feels a little too close to real-life discussions in which white men excitedly condemn Karens in order to downplay their own racism.
But despite the film’s shortcomings, the writer and director, Beth de Araújo, did her research. In an interview with IndieWire, de Araújo—herself a woman of color—talks about her own experiences with a racist teacher, and the rabbit holes she went down when learning about the Tradlife movement, an offshoot of white Christian nationalism that aims to produce as many white babies as possible. You can’t deny that Soft & Quiet portrays a real threat.
So is it a good movie? I don’t know. I don’t know how to judge it against other movies, because it feels more like an ethnography than a story. Here’s why it scares me so much, though.
If you sat both a sensible person and a Nazi down to watch Soft & Quiet, I suspect the two viewers would come away having seen completely different films. The sensible person would see a chilling study of genocidal fascists cloaked in sweet and gentle femininity—hence the film’s title. We don’t need anyone to tell us that what we’re seeing is evil.
I fear that the Nazi, however, wouldn’t be confronted with a mirror showing them their own depravity. Instead, I fear they’d see a straightforward story of a group of women sticking up for their ideals, and getting blindsided by a harmless prank gone wrong. I could all too easily see a white supremacist nodding sagely along with the women’s vile rhetoric at their club meeting because no one is there to counter that rhetoric. The fact that Anne survives at the end, gasping for breath as she pops out of the lake, might strike a racist as a shot similar to the end of a traditional horror movie. Oh no, the monster’s still alive! What will our intrepid heroines do now? If you think this scenario is farfetched, consider that white supremacists have rallied in support of Kyle Rittenhouse and other murderers. Nazis, by definition, are completely okay with killing people. They don’t see anything wrong with it.
Is this problem the movie’s fault? Again, I don’t know. White supremacists famously lack self-awareness, so it’s not clear what kind of message could get through to them, and I don’t think anyone should bother making movies for Nazis anyway. I do wish, though, that Soft & Quiet was less claustrophobic. The real-time feel of the movie, which creates the illusion that it was filmed in one long shot, is some pretty cool cinematography—but I would have gladly sacrificed it for a story that was more fleshed out. Emily and her ilk are boring characters, because beneath its violence and hate, Nazism is devoid of any meaning. Anne and Lily, on the other hand? Two women of color living in a town filled with white nationalists? That’s a story I would have liked to see.
Soft & Quiet isn’t fun to sit through, but it’s worth a watch if you want to understand the violence lurking beneath the surface of the Tradlife movement. If you have the misfortune of knowing any white supremacists, though, keep it away from them—lest they decide to take notes on how to get away with murder.
(featured image: Momentum Pictures)
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