‘The Columnist’ review

We’ve all witnessed some horrible, horrible comments on social media. It becomes even worse when they’re directed to you. Degrading, insulting, humiliating; enough to make your blood boil. But what happens when the person targeted decides to get revenge and take action, literally? We discover all the carnage that ensues online hatred in “The Columnist,” straight out of Netherlands, which makes its North American premiere at Fantasia’s International Film Festival; online edition.

Femke Boot (Katja Herbers from the series “Westworld”) is a columnist who has had enough of online trolls disrespecting her in the most sexist, disgusting and horrible ways. The soft-spoken women is sick and tired of everyone around her telling her to stick to simple and personal topics in her columns and to just ignore those online comments. When she goes to make an official complaint to the police and gets shrugged off, that becomes the final straw. She tracks down every single one of her obscene naysayers to make them pay with their lives in brutal manner, although the head honcho of these trolls seems to remain successfully anonymous. Ironically enough, Femke is helping out and supporting her daughter in her own protests at school in favor of freedom of speech. Where will her carnage stop and to what extent will it damage those around her?

After a few short film collaborations, writer DaanWindhorst and director Ivo van Aart give it a shot in the feature film business with “The Columnist”. They craft together a brilliantly contemporary topic with the dark fantasies that numerous people have had when being unjustly humiliated online. In addition to this, they succeed at it while making us laugh, grind our teeth, cry out obscenities, and cover our mouths in shock. The dark humor sprinkled throughout the feature is perfectly timed and well thought out. There are some farfetched aspects to the storyline, however, such as how physically overpowering Femke is in certain assassinations and how many victims she adds to her tally without getting caught, but they take nothing away from the satisfying plot that unfolds before our eyes. Once the ironic winks have been pushed aside, the film culminates to its gut-wrenching climax that will surely leave nobody indifferent.

Katja Herbers is sublime in her role as we witness the protagonist’s (or should we say antagonist’s?) evolution from a timid, shaken writer into a stone cold serial killer. The silent power she possesses helps empower her into the ironic and charismatic “avenger” that she becomes. She carries this film on her shoulders from beginning to end, but let’s not forget Bram van der Kelen who interprets her once-enemy, now-boyfriend, Steven Dood. He does a fantastic job at gaining our sympathy for various reasons, while Claire Porro, who portrays Femke’s daughter, Anna, is phenomenal at such a young age to possess this genuine authenticity for her character’s beliefs in her own principles as well as her confused emotions as the plot moves along.

“The Columnist” is very much in touch with today’s online social problems that have real-life effects on those targeted. What some spineless keyboard warriors believe to be “a little senseless fun” can deeply affect one’s mindset in regards to self-confidence, among many things, and has even pushed some to suicide. With this film, the writer and director want to teach this lesson to those online bullies. As Femke puts it: “Why can’t we have different opinions and just be nice about it?” The irony of freedom of speech is present throughout the whole film as the two spectrums of belief are tugged at constantly.

The Daan Windhorst and Ivo van Aart partnership results in an entertaining and reflection-inducing 86 minutes that receives a well-deserved 8/10 score.

Article written by SIMON ROTHER

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