In Ivo van Aart’s timely psycho-thriller, The Columnist, a female cultural commentator subjected to an endless stream of misogynistic vitriol by online trolls decides to get her own back, showing these vile men their hateful words have consequences.
Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) has earned the wrath of right-wingers who live to ‘own the libs’, all thanks to her popular newspaper column. Because Boot has the temerity to question things deemed sacrosanct to perma-offended nationalist blowhards, such as controversial holiday traditions as Black Peter, they predictably go off on one, spewing out a torrent of disturbing comments and threats on Twitter and Facebook. Fed up of blokes calling her a fucking whore (the Dutch title, De Kuthoer, can translate to either The Fucking Whore or Skank), she asks the cops to investigate, but they refuse and tell her to unplug the internet and stop obsessively trawling through her feeds.
Tapping into vital themes surrounding freedom of speech versus hate speech, misogyny, the psychological effects of online bullying and the decline of polite discourse, Femke snaps and goes on a roaring rampage of vigilante justice, dispatching a cadre of insignificant losers, who, it turns out upon meeting them face to face, don’t have much to say. It isn’t the internet that has made her loopy: Femke has always been a psycho and now has the opportunity to indulge the darker side of her personality. She cleverly serves as a symbol, a figure speaking out for every woman who has been abused online, gaslighted, and then told to stop overreacting, to stop being so precious, ignore it and it’ll go away.
The Columnist is also a film about our generation’s lack of manners and accountability, as well as an inability to agree to disagree. In one scene, right before she gets rid of yet another fool on her shit list, she grows comically exacerbated, asking, ‘Why can’t we just have different opinions and be nice about it?’ What’s also smart is how such moments put a gender switch on horrifying domestic violence scenarios. It’s as if Femke is saying, ‘look what you make me do’. How many times has a woman heard that, as if it’s been her fault all along? This film throws toxic male aggression right back at them.
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Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio