Internet trolls; we’ve all had the unfortunate experience of interacting with them. Whether that’s via social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, or in comment sections of forums and articles – there’s no escaping the keyboard warriors. The latest revenge thriller from Vertigo Releasing is a highly relatable commentary, and scathing condemnation, of those hiding behind the safety of their computer screens.
Newspaper columnist and struggling author Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) quickly becomes the target of misogynistic trolls following her latest article calling for the cancellation of Dutch tradition ‘Black Peter’. Following the tirade of abuse and dismissal from the police, she decides to take matters into her own hands. After discovering her loud neighbour is part of the mob posting awful comments, coupled with the fact his constantly loud building works are distracting her from writing, she snaps and first takes an axe to their newly installed fence in the night. When that fails to discourage him, she oh so matter-of-factly pushes him off the roof, ending the barrage of noise. This misguided empowerment sparks a new mission for the writer, as she sets out to deliver more vengeance.
The Columist is a refreshing and timely take on the debate around the effects of social media on mental health and modern day society. Grounding the narrative to mirror today’s reality in which women, particularly a writer like Femke, constantly have to endure the darker side of internet culture after expressing their own opinions, is a smart move. It’s so easy to empathise with her and relate, particularly when she comments “can we just have different opinions and be nice?” The writer falls into the all too easy trap of endlessly doom scrolling, as reading the hurtful and hateful Twitter comments quickly turns into an obsessive compulsion. Aart successfully balances the social commentary with a great mix of dark comedy and atmosphere, with plenty of elements for genre fans to enjoy, particularly when this victim of online abuse decides enough is enough. Sick of everyone around her telling her to ignore the abusive message and death threats, along with the be-littering male police who dismiss her, she begins to exact her own brand of bloody justice against the trolls.
Following the shock of her first kill, the deaths get more and more inventive and gory, as it’s revealed that the keyboard warriors merely turn out to be spineless cowards. Smartly scripted and savagely satirical, Femke emerges as an avenging angel type, seemingly revelling in the cathartic release. However her newly discovered addiction detracts her attention from her own daughter, Anna (Claire Porro) who also begins to fight back against the authority who are determined to stifle her voice in the school paper. Through Anna’s journey, Aart cleverly explores the ever changing concept of feminism and free speech, also challenging the hugely outdated Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet/Black Pete along the way. The Columist will certainly make a great companion watch alongside Promising Young Woman and Lucky, with a common sense of empowering women to stand up against their oppressors.
Katja Herbers impressively immerses herself in the role, convincingly transforming from annoyed neighbour to cathartic killer who’s rush of adrenaline ironically helps fuel her creativity. It’s worryingly easy to empathise with Femke in the first act, thanks to the clever script from Daan Windhorst paired with Herbers performance. However once the fast-paced comedy and shock of the kills begins to wear off, there’s a distinct lack of moral questioning over her actions.
Porro is another standout, as she passionately discovers her voice and attempts to share her idealistic notions of peaceful protests with the rest of the school. She also shares a sweet dynamic with Van Der Kelen’s horror author, who you’re initially led to believe is a bit of an arsehole, when in fact it’s only a persona for the media. Aart once again cleverly subverts our preconceptions with the writer, who despite appearances and adopted last name, is a wonderfully domestic partner and loving surrogate father. It’s also fantastic to see such a modern take on an ‘unconventional’ family unit represented in the film, challenging long held gender norms in film.
Smart, stylish and subversive, The Columnist is a pitch black spin on revenge wish-fulfilment with a fantastic collection of performances. However the cliffhanger ending does leave you wanting more, never completely exploring the consequences of certain actions. Loving the absolute mood of Femke’s final act suit though!