Fantasia Film Festival 2020: The Columnist
Director: Ivo van Aart
Writer: Daan Windhorst
Starring: Genio de Groot, Katja Herbers, Rein Hofman
Columnist and author Femke is flooded with anonymous nasty messages and death threats on social media. One day she has enough and decides to take revenge.
C. “Don’t read the comments. You never read the comments.” Because of modern society this line has become a golden rule if you’re planning on putting content into the world. While it’s easy for others that aren’t facing the comments directly to say this phrase, it is hard to not take them personally, no matter how ludacris they may be. Werner Herzog and others have discussed the hateful acts and comments shown through the internet under the banner of “freedom of speech.” There hasn’t been a fictional film that’s handled it so well. The Columnist is one-part black comedy, one-part dark thriller about an author’s descent into violence against her critics. The irony of Femke’s story is that her initial stance as the film opens is arguing why people won’t be nice to each other despite their different beliefs. However, we quickly learn that her stance is based on hypocrisy, as she is not as “nice” or open to other views as she presents herself. At the same time, we see Femke’s daughter, Anna, start a major campaign for freedom of speech within her school, which acts as a juxtaposition to the main story. But like her mother, Anna’s reasoning behind her campaign feels like it’s more based on the fact that she couldn’t swear in school, rather than about those in less fortunate countries that don’t have the same rights. This is one of those films that is fairly easy to know where it’s going from the first murder but I found it incredibly engaging and the movie flew by for me. I don’t want to spoil too much so anyone reading this can go in blind and watch it unfold. The acting, dialogue, all the technical aspects are spot on and leave little room for any criticism. It’s funny that a film about criticism has little from me. There are moments that leave you wondering about the credits role, because Femke is a very sloppy killer and there’s hints that the police are on to her, so you wonder how she’s able to get away as long as she does. But, a lot of that issue can be chalked up to the black comedy stylistic element that I mentioned prior. J. So as the synopsis above suggests, there isn’t a lot here in terms of plot but I can see how this would be entirely relatable to a certain niche of writers/actors/directors and the like. Certainly not me cuz no one knows who the fuck I am but I do admit that Twitter and Facebook (mainly Facebook) make me wanna kill some folks. The thing about this film is that it’s funny but it’s not that funny. The murders start and it’s gory but it’s not that gory. For me personally, I would’ve gone all out, over-the-top with both because it’s sort of a ludicrous premise. That’s not to say it doesn’t work but things do get a little repetitive as our protagonist (antagonist?) Femke just goes down the list of her Twitter trolls and kills the shit out of them. Ironically, Femke’s daughter Anna is doing a school project on freedom of speech which Femke is seemingly all for but aren’t Twitter trolls just utilizing their own freedom of speech albeit in dickish and moronic ways? There’s something to be said for this juxtaposition although I’m not exactly sure what. Things get a little confusing as we wrap up and I can’t say how because of spoilers but let’s just say one of Femke’s murders I wasn’t too clear on the motivation behind. The Columnist is entertaining though and I thought Femke had a great line when she tells one of the asshole trolls that, and I’m paraphrasing here: “you are what is wrong with the country. You and your laptop.” K. I came into this one totally blind and honestly it didn’t look too interesting but I was blown away. Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) is an online columnist working on a novel and dealing with the constant stream of hate from internet trolls that comes with being a public figure. Quite a timely scenario. And while preaching kindness and tolerance, Femke indulges in murder. The kind of dark wish fulfillment everyone fantasizes about in the midst of an unwinnable online argument or when insulted by anonymous vitriol spewers. This plays as black comedy but eventually the repercussions catch up with her. I won’t spoil anything. But this is writing of the highest order. Daan Windhorst encapsulates the Chinese finger trap that is online discourse and forces us to face the worst that freedom of speech allows and exposes the inexorable hypocrisy of confronting it. No one wins. Everyone loses. And if you allow it to spill over into your real life, you lose doubly. The acting is solid all across the board, anchored by an inimitable lead performance by Katja Herbers. She manages to win you over right away and then do terrible things that you can’t help but excuse. I cannot recommend this film more highly. Check it out!
C. I have to disagree with Josh a little that the last murder made sense to me. I would say I can see how they could have worked with the daughter’s plotline a little more to connect the two arcs a little better but it didn’t bother me overall. Once she begins dating the horror writer I knew instantly that somehow he’d be seen as a suspect over Femke, despite the fact that he’s the nicest guy (don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything). I don’t know if it’s one I’d be watching anytime soon but it’s definitely something I’d put in my top recommendations list when others are looking for a newer movie to watch… and yes, I’d probably buy it since I have a problem. J. Everything here mostly works and I like that the character is relatable (although let’s not actually murder Twitter trolls, folks). There’s an honesty that’s balls-to-the-wall and although I wish it pushed a little harder, it’s worth the ride no doubt. K. Obviously, I agree with both Josh and Craig, for the most part. The only thing you could criticize is her getting away with the murders so long, like Craig said but I think that’s a stylistic choice. I feel the same way about Josh’s critique, there is definitely a version of this you could make that’s more over the top and gory but I felt that this iteration fit the tone that was set by the filmmakers. I’d be down to rewatch it tomorrow and recommend it, of course. And kill anyone who criticizes, while I hypocritically endorse their right to free speech. Bloodhound’s average score: 4 out of 5