Horror is a cathartic genre of film. It can explore, present, and release fear, anxiety, stress through all sorts of visceral and cinematic approaches. Sometimes it is amplified and silly, sometimes it is subtle and atmospheric. And sometimes, as is the case with the film ‘Soft & Quiet,’ the latest from Beth de Araújo, it is stark, unflinching, and all too real. Less interested in catharsis, and more interested in a reckoning.
Filmed in realtime and in what appears to be one shot, ‘Soft & Quiet’ is slow in the way life is. It starts with polite conversations, smiles and nods only to lead to one of the most disturbing climaxes in film. There is no question that where the narrative of Soft & Quiet leads is into the darkest and most horrific recesses of human nature, but it also knows how to lure us there. This film does not start with shock. It starts with a teacher talking to a child. It starts with people abiding by the nicety of polite culture. It lures us in with smiles.
Then there is a meeting. A meeting that begins like a PTA event. A harmless potluck, only under the surface is the hate and racism that always simmers below.
There is a pie with a swastika.
And that is only the beginning. As it is in life.
In this film, as in life, it is played off as a joke. As everyone being too sensitive, as libs being triggered, as snowflakes ruining civilization.
But through the running time, that pie becomes emblematic of the entire group of characters.
Timid stories about people of color being given benefits denied to white people.
Impassioned please about feminism ruining femininity.
About white culture being punished for winning.
It all bubbles so slowly through the running time that you can feel the characters within the film being inoculated. This was fine to say, this was supported, so the next, slightly amplified, thing will probably be fine too.
This advances and advances into a crescendo that is so disgusting and uncomfortable to watch the audience will not only squirm, they will wonder how they got here.
And that is what civilization is. Small aggressions building upon each other until it explodes into hate crimes and violence.
‘Soft and Quiet’ is not just a cathartic horror film, it is a treatise on how terrifying it is for any person of color to live in this country. Any interaction can go wrong, and there is always a small change it will go wrong in the most permanent way.
So, while ‘Soft & Quiet’ isn’t the sort of horror film that releases fear and anxiety, quite the opposite really, it is the kind of horror film that is quite happy to hold up the horrific mirror of human darkness. While it is not interested in any safety or release of emotion, it is quite effective at pulling that ugliness of racism from the simmering underbelly of society. While it is not an easy watch, it is a powerful one. And most importantly, it is a film that intends to stay with you, to remind you of the horror of racism.
SXSW 2022: ‘Soft and Quiet’ Simmers Until it Boils