The Columnist (2021)

Ivo van Aart

Running Time: 86 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Katja Herbers, Bram van der Kelen, Claire Porro, Rein Hofman, Harry van Rijthoven

To call social media one of the prevalent inventions of the 21st century is an understatement. Widely used by so many, it's allowed for people to form friendships across wide distances, or to just as easily attack others. Newspaper columnist Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) knows this all too well, as receiving death threats are a daily occurrence for her online. She already has writers' block impeding her upcoming novel, so not helping matters is discovering her obnoxious neighbour is among those posting vile comments. After taking matters into her own hands, Femke finds herself able to write again, which begins a quest for vengeance against the trolls.

As the death threats keep coming through, Femke must grapple with the sad matter of fact that nobody sympathises with her. The publisher's priority is weaponizing the hate-mail to attract publicity for the book, while a friend minimizes it by claiming it can't be too bad, and a police officer dismisses it through condescending victim-blaming. These threats are not being taken seriously, and nobody considers the mental toll it must take on Femke. This is excellently captured by Herbers, who conveys the weariness from receiving the barrage of hatred, later followed by rising like a phoenix, as she's clearly rejuvenated by silencing the sources of such disgusting vitriol.

By her side throughout is the man she is dating, an author of horror books known as Steven Death. His writings are a way of venting what's on his mind, to purge the dark thoughts and subject matter he admits to thinking about. His dark look masks a gentle heart, the inverse to Femke masking her darker desires, and Bram van der Kelen does well capturing the kind-hearted soul laying beneath a goth exterior. He especially bonds with Anna, Femke's teenage daughter who is finding her voice, portrayed well by Claire Porro. She kicks up a fuss in her school by standing up for her right to free speech, which makes for an interesting parallel to her mother's journey, doling out the consequences to people that have expressed their free speech online.

Considering Femke's initial thoughts, longing for the days of peaceful disagreements and being nice about different opinions, this marks an interesting turn of events. As she comes face-to-face with these people who talked a big game online, we clearly see how spineless and pathetic they truly are. They're happy to deliver nasty comments under a mask of anonymity, yet when faced with the reality of what they've said, their lame justifications predictably include "It's just a joke". Through these satisfying sequences, director and co-writer Ivo van Aart delivers some slick set-pieces, brought alive in ways which are wonderfully gory and delightfully pitch-black. Set to Daan Windhorst's savagely satirical script, this relevant tale will hopefully make the Piers Morgan's of the world think twice about what they say online.

The Columnist is released on Digital Platforms from 12th March