Fantasia 2020 – The Columnist (2019)

Directed by: Ivo van Aart. Starring: Katja Herbers, Bram van der Kelen, Claire Porro. Runtime: 1h 26 min. Released: December 20, 2019 (Netherlands). This film had its International Premiere as part of Fantasia Film Festival.

Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) is a columnist for a local newspaper. She keeps receiving hate mail, death threats and nasty comments on Twitter and Facebook. She believes that this is a world where people should be nice and just because someone disagrees with you, they shouldn’t automatically be your enemy. Unfortunately for Femke, this is the Internet, not Canada. Soon, she reaches a breaking point and begins killing those who target her on the Internet.

The satire is the best part of The Columnist, about the Internet being full of trolls who get their comeuppance and no one cares when they’re gone. I realized after the film that Femke’s sloppy style of killing is purposeful because, like no one usually does anything about trolls being nasty on the Internet, no one really does anything about their deaths. In real-life, the cops would connect Femke to these killings after three or four of them (at the earliest), but this isn’t real-life, this is satire. During the film, I found this difficult to suspend this disbelief throughout until I’m realizing now that this was the point.

The other great part of this film is Katja Herbers’ lead performance. She plays to the anger and obsessive nature very well, first being obsessed with the negativity over the Internet and then becoming obsessed with the killing as it fuels her creativity. She is simply strong as a character I didn’t love (but more on that soon).

The Columnist 6
Katja Herbers in The Columnist. (Photo courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival, photo by Pief Weyman.)

I liked the parallel between Femke’s arc and what’s going on with her daughter, Anna (Claire Porro), who’s fighting for freedom of speech at her school. Her speech there, written by Femke, ties everything together in a smart and tidy way. The writing truly is clever, but I think there’s so much focus on the commentary by Daan Windhorst that other aspects are neglected. For one, I didn’t find this film that funny even though this is exactly my kind-of black comedy. I mean, there are a few chuckles, but that doesn’t satisfy; from the first kill, I felt like I missed out on the joke. The film’s billed as a horror-comedy but of course there’s the focus on the comedy; and when that’s not super funny, that really sucks. The story feels run-of-the-mill, too, as Femke is the type of serial killer you might see on a crime procedural show, complete with her working towards an endgame.

I didn’t like Femke, either. She’s a columnist who offers help (it’s never specific what exactly she writes about), but she doesn’t seem to like people that much. She also feels like an empty person; writing her column, checking the responses and then killing people over it. None of the characters feel rich and Femke’s new boyfriend, horror writer Steven Death (Bram van der Kelen), as well as Femke’s daughter, are both more likable. Femke and Death meet on a panel at the beginning of the film and connect later, where they become inseparable; but this is one of the points where the film feels awkward in pacing because of the 86-minute runtime as we’re treated to a montage and all the sudden they’re writing side by side. I didn’t find it believable and Death simply seems there to humanize Femke. I liked his performance fine and I enjoyed how he worked into this story, as without him I fear I would have disliked this even more.

With everything and how the film shakes out, the ending feels so anti-climactic and I really disliked how it ended. The imagery is memorable as hell, sure, but The Columnist is a major let-down for me, especially because it’s something I usually love.

Score: 50/100

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