Social media can really bring out the worst in all of us. In Ivo Van Aart’s comedic thriller The Columinst (De Kuthoer), a newspaper columnist and outspoken critic of the internet’s nasty nature confront her twitter trolls irl. Of course, rather than asking for an apology (which she know she won’t get) or taking the time to explain how their words have affected her (which she doesn’t think they deserve), she simply murders them and pats herself on the back for a job well done. Why block someone when you can bury them, right?
The Columinst celebrates it’s North American Premiere at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, available On Demand through the festival’s virtual box office August 20 – September 2. Directed by Ivo Van Aart from a screenplay by Daan Windhorst, The Columnist stars Katja Herbers (Westworld), Bram van der Kelen, Rein Hofman, and Claire Porro.
“A modern American Psycho for our social media-obsessed times.”
After a particularly savage dragging online, columnist Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) declares that she’s leaving Twitter, and the toxic environment it has created. The decision couldn’t have come at a better time too because she hasn’t written a single word for the new book that her publisher is eager to release. With the worry of her online presence out of the way, she has all the time in the world to focus on her writing. The trouble is, she can’t keep herself from checking in on what people are saying about her and her newspaper column. It’s a trap we all fall into from time to time, but one that so affects Femke so personally that she absolutely cannot write. it’s as though a gigantic, distracting fly is buzzing around the room and she won’t be able to get anything done until she’s squashed it.
The hatred for Femke is interesting because her column is pretty tame. For years it’s been a slice-of-life piece about the trials & tribulations of raising a daughter or “the joy of a soft boiled egg”. Lately though, especially now that her daughter is a self-sufficient teenager, Femke has shifted her focus to more immediate and concerns of the modern Dutch society. I’m sure you can imagine what happens when she calls out Twitter as a breeding ground for hate. Her boyfriend, and fellow writer Steven (Bram van der Kelen) reminds her to never (ever!) read the comments, but she can’t resist and those angry voices bash around inside her. Even her criticism of Holland’s continued use of blackface comes up against a wave of shitheads, including a neighbour (Rein Hofman) that is nothing but smiles in person despite his online outrage. Taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity, Femke pushes the neighbour off the roof. His death, and the silence of his voice in her head gives Femke the freedom to write again! Like a wave of inspiration come crashing down on her, the words come flying out of her at breakneck speed…until she reads another comment and she’s back staring into a blank white page.
The Columnist is a modern parable about sticks and stones, and words that break bones. It’s also a jumping-off point to start letting out all your frustrations about internet culture, which has made writing this review surprisingly difficult. I can’t type more than three sentences without accidentally slipping into my own social media manifesto about what needs to change and why. Unlike everything our mother’s taught us growing up, on the internet if you don’t have anything nice to say people want you to say it all. Femke sees herself as an avenging angel, stepping in to dole out the punishment to these trolls that no one else is willing to do. Murder is by no means an appropriate response to shitposting but The Columnist isn’t a story about revenge. It’s a cautionary tale about wesponizing your freedom of speech to silence anyone you disagree with. It’s easy to get lost in the ever-evolving discourse of the online world, and this film wants us to recognize that the longer we disagree, the deeper we dig our feet in, the easier it becomes to find justification for the wicked things we do. Just because you’ve appointed yourself the hero of one argument, doesn’t make you aren’t already villain of another.
At least that’s what I think The Columnist is trying to say. The story never really finds anything concrete to hang its hat on, and even leaves with us more angles to the argument in it’s closing moments. I enjoyed it most when viewing it as an unconventional serial killer story. A modern American Psycho for our social media-obsessed times. Just as Patrick Bateman was able to stumble his way through yuppie culture completely un-checked, Femke Boots is able to disappear into a society more likely to post than call the police. Although it never hammered home it’s message for me, it also never beat me over the head with it and for that I am grateful. The Columnist is fun and playful for a movie about murdering your critics (eep!), and one that ends with such an incredible final image that you might think twice before saying anything bad about it online.
“Although [The Columnist] never hammered home it’s message for me, it also never beat me over the head with it and for that I am grateful.”
Ivo Van Aart’s The Columinst celebrates it’s North American Premiere at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Click HERE to follow all of our festival coverage, and be sure to let us know what you thought of The Columnist (and whether you think murder is a suitable solution for writer’s block; asking for a friend…) over on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!