Hell hath no fury like a woman trolled! Despite any genre trappings and social media commentary that occurs here, at the very heart of this film is the female rage and the feeling of “enough is enough” when it comes to the way many men have been treating women for centuries, whether it is physical violence or verbal and emotional abuse.
In ‘The Columnist’, writer Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) is trying to progress in her life and career whilst writing columns for a magazine and publish a book. She wants us to live in a world whereby we can disagree with others but still be kind and civil (wouldn’t that be something). However, after arguing in an article that Black Peter, a staple of Christmas folklore where white Dutch citizens dress up in blackface, should be brought to an end, she becomes the target for a barrage of online abuse.
At first, she just becomes obsessed with reading these posts and can’t focus on anything else, and then as the abuse continues to grow more violent and misogynistic, she snaps into action and decides to bring real life consequences to those who abuse her online. Her first revenge kill happens so quickly and ‘normally’ that it seems it must be a dream sequence, but it isn’t, and the film just continues to get more bizarre from there.
The film tackles head on the effects of online abuse and also the wide variety of different people (mainly men) who decide to attack women online, and it explores the wide age ranges this can occur from (hinting but never properly digging in to the idea of the toxic masculinity that is ingrained in many men from such a young age and never leaves). We get a realistic and often sickening look at what everyday life is like for a woman online, and how that treatment is not something that can always be escaped by simply “logging off”. We aren’t asked to agree with the decision of the protagonist, but it is tough to not sympathise with her at times due to the abuse she is receiving.
We also have a sub-plot regarding the main character’s daughter who is having her own issues dealing with themes like free speech at school, and her actions often used as a more practical and less violent version of her mothers, and the stories for mirror each other well. This storyline isn’t developed enough to create a major impact but I appreciated it’s presence.
We also see some real visual flourishes behind the camera at times, even though the film for the most maintains an intentionally dull palette in order to ground the films setting in realism. This visual mask starts to slip at the same time as the protagonist’s mask of sanity slips, and we are quickly introduced to more colour and sharp cuts, right up until the final scene which features a memorable white outfit that is splattered in blood and provides a central image to remember the film by.
The film is a real showcase for Herbers who gets to show off multiple sides of her acting talent. During the first half of the film she plays a woman with real repressed rage, that only occasionally comes to the surface but is mixed in with a genuine fear for her safety when she receives these threats. However, in the second half the character really lets loose and this allows for Herbers to play an almost rabid fury and a righteous anger, all of which had been previously hinted at but is now fully realised. She manages to do all of this dramatic work whilst maintaining a consistent dead-pan wit which is very in keeping with the tone of the film, and often times the character seems as shocked as us at how these ridiculously violent events are occurring in such a matter of fact way.
‘The Columnist’ does slightly lose its way in the third act as it falls into genre clichés of a slasher revenge flick and loses the commentary and tone that it had initially maintained. This is disappointing as it felt for a while as though this could be something really special and unique, but despite that issue, I still think it is a memorable film that people should seek out. It is worthwhile for the lead performance, the visual flourishes, and the commentary on the way women are treated in our new digital age.
Rating = 3.5/5