The Columnist is a 2019 Dutch comedy horror feature film about a writer who is flooded with anonymous nasty messages and death threats on social media. One day she has enough and decides to take revenge.
Directed by Ivo van Aart from a screenplay written by Daan Windhorst, the movie stars Katja Herbers, Genio de Groot, Rein Hofman, Bram van der Kelen and Claire Porro.
Director Ivo van Art’s lively black comedy of a chic lady turned unlikely serial killer is a social media (Twitter especially) revenge-fantasy come true. Only those despicable online troll types could complain about it. Well, those guys and people who would like a better ending.
The appealing Katja Herbers plays Femke Boot, a single mum and high-profile columnist (imagine Julie Burchill’s stature, minus the punk-rock and tabloid stuff) in metropolitan Holland, late in delivering a novel manuscript to her (female) editor in time for the Christmas buying season. Femke is instead consumed with the hateful and misogynist Twitter posts barraging her every written thought, insulting her appearance, and making lurid slanders about her sexuality (let’s just say the original Dutch-language title does not translate as “columnist”). When Femke complains about the toxic online community on a TV chat show, the trolling onslaught just gets worse, prompting a humiliating investigation by the police.
Her editor just smugly tells her to shrug it off, while Femke’s adolescent daughter fights her own school battle regarding her “freedom of expression” in making nasty remarks about Holland’s royal family. All this sets up viewer expectation of a shock-horror twist concerning the gender and true motivations of the cyber-bullies targeting Femke. But [spoiler alert], that does not happen – the picture is edgy, but not quite that edgy.
Instead, Femke, via elementary cyber-sleuthing, learns to unmask trolls via their Twitter account names. Aye, they are drably unimpressive neighbourhood Dutchmen, apparently just having “fun.” And yes, she starts methodically stalking and murdering them, while she enjoys an idyll with a new boyfriend and the soundtrack plays upbeat tunes.
Viewers may be reminded of John Waters’ cheeky Serial Mom or even Roger Corman’s original A Bucket of Blood (1959) – serial homicide as an act of self-empowerment and a bit of a career-enhancer – with the requisite 21st-century update to the World Wide Web-scape. Yes, filmmaker van Art doesn’t go a completely predictable route, and he is wise enough to throw in a bit of irony concerning his rampaging feminist heroine and end the thing at a nicely tight, Corman-esque 85 minutes.
Still, one wishes perhaps an extra…something that would have made this a real trailblazer of a cult item rather than merely a sharp-looking and well-mounted jump aboard the cinema du Twitter/Facebook bandwagon that concludes with a self-satisfied sardonic smirk and a lot of dangling plotlines (and viscera).
Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA
” …the film has a biting wit that feels very reflective of the current moment and Femke is a fantastic showcase for Herbers, whose Westworld role could hardly be considered meaty. Plus: even if The Columnist falls prey to predictable plotting in the third act, it still goes out with an audacious bang.” Bloody Disgusting
“The film’s subversive comedy is blacker than straight coffee and frequently as bitter. It’s also a little thin, a little trite, and doesn’t find a particularly sharp bite to viciously puncture the subject it sets out to skewer.” Culture Crypt
“For those who get a kick out of some good, darkly comedic violence, The Columnist is a blast and one of the year’s biggest surprises. It’s incredibly stylish in all aspects, including Femke in that impeccable white suit which, by the way, she’s not afraid to murder in. That image of her on the film’s posters coincides with the film’s ending in such a delectable way.” Daily Dead
“Ivo van Aart’s The Columnist is a thought-provoking, controversial picture that is an absolute must-watch. It holds a perfect amount of gore while teaching a valuable lesson to its audience. With Femke’s startling composure, Steven’s constant rationalization, as well as Anna’s fighting spirit, we’re treated to a story that perfectly captures modern society.” First Showing
“This Dutch production treats its subject matter with broad strokes but does so in a way that allows it to be entertaining as well as providing social commentary. To be honest it’s surprising there aren’t more films dealing with the subject. And it’s a shame they couldn’t have called it Troll Hunter.” House of Mortal Cinema
“Herbers plays the heroine’s progression from jittery doormat to self-possessed homicidal maniac in a nicely ambiguous fashion. Of course, it’s wrong to murder sh*tposters – but there’s undoubtedly a gleeful edge. It’s a shortish, sharp movie with just enough disturbing undercurrents to stick in the mind.” The Kim Newman Web Site
“There’s something satisfying about watching smug, smarmy racists and misogynists get their comeuppance, and The Columnist presents a revenge fantasy likely to be shared by anyone who’s ever been mercilessly f*cked with online. van Aart doesn’t quite stick the landing, as there are a few too many loose threads left dangling, but as a piece of bloody, humorous escapism it’s quite fun.” The Lamplight Review
“While I loved the style of The Columnist, the film’s suggestion that women should just “ignore the comments” seemed a bit tone-deaf in light of how often those comments can graduate to real-world abuse. Femke repeats that she is a person, a human being, and the film smugly counters that, in insisting on her own humanity, she has ignored the humanity of her abusers. In my opinion, Femke didn’t need nice.” Morbidly Beautiful
“The story is one that draws you in and the 86-minute runtime for The Columnist flew by. The storyline touches on so many parts of the world of social media I was entirely enthusiastic about where the finale would land […] I adored The Columnist. It’s a thought-provoking and well-orchestrated story.” Mother of Movies
” …The Columnist is a largely sharp satire that never preaches a stance – rather it presents all sides of a highly complicated debate. In its final act however it drops its comic stylings, and while the tone isn’t as jarring as the similarly themed but far less successful Promising Young Woman, it does feel like van Aart and writer Daan Windhorst couldn’t find a way to organically blend their serious point with the comedy…” The Movie Waffler
“Katja Herbers’ performance makes it all the easier to imagine ourselves in her shoes. However, by providing nuances in the writing and – overall- execution of the film, it is not long before we question how far she will go. Wrapped in a black comedic package, The Columnist (De Kuthoer) is easily a film I can recommend and will leave people talking about it for ages.” Nightmarish Conjurings
” …a blackly funny satire exploring the limits of obscenity and hateful discourse in our new mediated age. It is a debate also played out by the renaming of the film’s original Dutch title De Kuthoer (literally ‘The Pussy Whore’), apparently deemed too offensive for English-speaking viewers.” Sight & Sound
” …the film, and the script by Daan Windhorst, is a bit of a mixed bag tonally, wanting to be Dexter but also trying to avoid getting too consumed with the violence. Herbers’s performance goes a long way towards selling this- her anger is palpable, and we find ourselves questioning the morality of her actions, which is appropriate.” Sonic Cinema
” …a cautionary tale in the vein of “he who fights monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster,” but for all the time the film spends on developing Femke as a character, she might as well be a monster from the very beginning. That being said, it is extremely satisfying to see Femke stab, beat, strangle, shoot and electrocute her way through one troll after another.” The Spool
“Daan Windhorst’s script keeps thing humorous while delivering a powerful message. While we don’t condone the actions of the lead character, there isn’t a one among us who wouldn’t punch the air at such actions – on screen only, naturally […] With remarkable performances from all involved, The Columnist is a Dutch treat well worth seeking out.” Starburst
Shown at the 2020 virtual Fantasia festival and virtual 2020 FrightFest.
Cast and characters:
Katja Herbers … Femke Boot
Genio de Groot … Arend
Rein Hofman … Arjen Tol, neighbour
Bram van der Kelen … Steven Dood
Claire Porro … Anna Boot
Harry van Rijthoven … Head of the school
Seno Sever … Politieagent