Internet trolls are so common that we expect their bad behavior, especially behind a keyboard’s safety. In Ivo Van Aart’s timely thriller, The Columnist, we see how online bullying takes a toll on freedom of speech.
Femke (Katja Herbers) is a columnist and author who is regularly dragged on the internet for her opinion. Her Twitter feed is filled with venom and wrongful accusations of pedophilia for a teenage romance she had when she herself was a teen, and she wonders why it’s so hard for people to be kind to each other. Femke is also suffering from writer’s block, pressure from her publisher, and a strong-willed teenage daughter. When an obnoxious neighbor sets off her last nerve, Femke unleashes her frustrations on her detractors and trolls in a violent and final way.
There couldn’t be a timelier piece about internet trolls. Social media is currently going off the rails with right-wing hate-speech entering feeds a mile a minute, and Van Aart brings us a snapshot of how awful and powerful this thing called social media can be. Daan Windhorst writes a smart script, broaching some hot topics about archaic and hurtful traditions and the damage freedom of speech can do when targeting instead of amplifying voices. Herbers is excellent as the unassuming white, middle-class writer with a killing streak. I’m a huge fan of hers from the TV series Evil, and I was thrilled to see her deliver such a nuanced performance here. I also got a kick out of her rival-turned-lover Steven Dood (Death), played by Bram van der Kelen, a horror writer who is a gentle soul and contrasts well with her “normal” appearance that allows her to become a serial killer without being questioned.
Check out this darkly funny and poignant horror at Fantasia Film Festival streaming until Sep 2.