Netflixable? The Scariest Threats are Existential, and they arrive “Soft & Quiet”

Disquieting, discomfitting and disturbing almost on a molecular level, “Soft & Quiet” is a horror movie all but ripped from today’s headlines, or would be if anyone still read newspapers.

It’s not about monsters, it’s about your neighbors. And while there are crimes in it, it’s what precedes those crimes that earn writer-director Beth de Araújo’s debut feature the label “horror.”

As Emily, the smiling, helpful kindergarten teacher who has gathered like-minded friends together in a meeting room at the local Catholic church close to the school where she teaches puts it, it’s the folks who organize and show a “soft on the outside” exterior to the world who are societal change’s “secret weapon.” People who “tread quietly” get results.

And then Emily — played with a brittle chill by Stefanie Estes — takes the cover off the fruity pie she baked for this kaffeeklatsch and we see the swastika she carved onto it.

“What, can NO one take a JOKE anymore?”

“Soft & Quiet” is a chilling account, depicted in real time and in what looks like one long, suspense-building take, of Emily’s efforts to organize a white supremacist group. The film lets us see what happens when their racist rhetoric, dog whistles and outright slurs delivered with Betty White smiles, their white grievance and aggressive, confrontational “victimhoom,” is put into practice.

It is jaw-droppingly creepy and cringeable ugly, with their complaints spreading across the spectrum, from “Jew bankers” and “brown” this or that to the N-word and harsh judgements that enfold every nasty thing everyone has ever said about a minority in this country — racial, ethnic, religious or sexual.

The viewer finds her or himself picking out which extremist group — the racist, wantonly belligerent and backward “Moms for Liberty” or the openly fascist and violent Proud Boys — these women resemble at this or that stage of the narrative.

Writer-director de Araújo and her cast — Olivia Lucardi, Dana Millican, Eleanore Pienta, Rebekah Wiggins, Cissy Ly and Melissa Paulo among them — capture “mob mentality” as it forms, mild-mannered women growing more emboldened, radicalized and “triggered” with every minute that passes without the social pushback decent human beings face such goons, even the distaff ones, with.

We’re seeing a 90 minute version of what we’ve watched over the past six years in our country modeled and boiled down to a simple, increasingly-tense and escalatingly more fraught story.

The script sets Emily up as a concerned teacher who comforts a boy whose mother is late picking him up, only to let us pick up on her worldview by the way she insists the child go and order the Latina custodian at school to not mop until after he’s left.

“Grooming,” I believe that’s called.

The impact of this movie is akin to “doom scrolling” on the crippled social media platform Twitter, seeing your worst fears about the worst among us reflected in the news, Congressional race-baiters and their citizen minions and wingnut media amplifiers.

As stressful as that sounds, it’s still a recommendation. A tight, minimalist thriller this smart, rhetoric-based turning towards violence and its repercussions, is too good and too important to ignore.

Rating: R for disturbing racial violence including rape and pervasive language including offensive slurs

Cast: Stefanie Estes, Olivia Lucardi, Dana Millican, Eleanore Pienta, Rebekah Wiggins, Cissy Ly, Melissa Paulo.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Beth de Araújo. An eOne/Blumhouse release on Netflix

Running time: 1:31


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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