‘White people are the worst’ in real-time Blumhouse thriller

That homemade cherry pie you see Emily wearing in the opening scene of “Soft and quiet”? It’s not what you think. But then neither is Emily, a tall blonde schoolteacher who cuts through the woods behind the school to attend a gathering of like-minded women. Women who call themselves “Girls for Aryan Unity” and complain about concepts such as “reverse racism”. Upon arriving, Emily removes the aluminum foil and reveals a giant swastika etched into the crust. It’s her idea of ​​a joke – like the transgressive Nazi salute she sneaks into the parking lot after the meeting.

You know what else Emily thinks to herself is just a joke? Rounding up her mean white friends and going to a local waitress – a woman who isn’t white and doesn’t fit Emily’s narrow idea of ​​racial superiority – in an attempt to confiscate her passport. But that’s no joke; it’s a hate crime, and writer-director Beth de Araujo wants audiences to feel the sheer, horrifying force of what these people are capable of, especially when they bring their biases together.

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“The media likes to portray us as these big scary monsters,” one of the women told Emily, who played with chilling conviction by Stefanie Estes (“Mary last seen”). Their encounter serves as a “safe space” for harmful ideas, which de Araújo suggests these women think and say when in company. Maybe she’s right. Diversity initiatives and shifting social values ​​threatened their status, so these white supremacists — one of whom says his father was a Ku Klux Klan chapter president — adapted. Instead of changing their views, they have changed brands: they are “gentle on the outside”, silent in public, but organized.

As a teacher, Emily is uniquely positioned to encourage the little white boys in her class to be more assertive. (We see her do just that in an early scene, when she asks a child to scold an immigrant housekeeper.) Emily works with kindergartners, but de Araújo’s production company is called Second Grade. Teacher, and the reason is in the press notes. “She reminded me of my second-grade teacher who put the whole POC in the lowest reading group and put my parents down in front of me,” says de Araújo’s principal’s statement. “It is insidious how deliberately these women are embedded in education and information systems.”

Again, she may be right. I hadn’t thought of that before, but that’s why it’s so important that independent cinema allows us to hear more than just white male voices. For more than a century, American films have reinforced negative stereotypes about people of color. DW Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation’ presented the KKK as chivalrous crusaders, for shouting out loud. It is high time we heard the other side. Emily and her Aryan sisters are monsters, and it makes sense that Blumhouse (a company that deals almost exclusively with horror) would be interested in this project.

Shot – or at least billed as – an 89-minute single take, “Soft & Quiet” plays like the first act of a Quentin Tarantino film, as the villains give us every reason to hate them. Nothing is off limits – not hate speech, not homophobia, not the N-word. When Tarantino transgresses like this, we can put up with it because we know these irredeemable characters will have what befalls them (his last seven feature films were stories of bloody revenge), while de Araújo does not give us that satisfaction.

In addition to Emily, this white supremacist club consists of new recruit Leslie (Olivia Luccardi) and bachelor Marjorie (Eleanore Pienta), whom the young moms (Mahoney and Rebekah Wiggins) offer to help find husbands – yet another tactic of the group to maintain the genetic superiority they imagine themselves to possess. Convenience store owner Kim (Dana Millican) is the most outspoken, adding anti-Semitic conspiracy talk to the mix.

After being kicked out of the local church, four of the women go to Kim’s store, where a confrontation with two Asian American customers, Anne (Melissa Paulo) and Lily (Cissy Ly), leaves them feeling aggrieved. Never mind that the disrespect comes from white women, and it’s Kim who pulls out a gun and makes the situation dangerous. That’s when Emily decides it would be fun to teach Anne a lesson, so they hop in the van – with Emily’s outnumbered and emasculated boyfriend (Jon Beavers) – and break into Anne’s house. Then Anne comes home, and things get ugly…or much, much uglier than they already were.

“Soft & Quiet” is deeply unpleasant to watch, but that’s the point. The “oner” strategy makes the situation even more uncomfortable (props from DP Greta Zozula), making us more than mere witnesses – passive accomplices, really, unable to intervene as the situation snowballs. The format shows that de Araújo has some serious cinematic credentials: she can orchestrate and sustain the energy throughout, having sown clues in the first half hour. But it also paints the film into a corner, spending an awkward amount of time walking, driving, and standing. “Soft & Quiet” probably would have been more effective had it been shot and cut like a normal feature, especially in the wonky last act. Ultimately, the one-hit conceit feels over the top – a gripping stunt in a movie that would have caught our attention anyway. It’s not every day you see a group of “nice” white ladies serving up an openly racist American pie.

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