Ivo van Aart’s “The Columnist” (De Kuthoer) is a darkly comedic and sinister tale that has been winning audiences over at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. Katja Herbers shines in the lead as Femke Boot, an author and columnist who becomes engulfed in the flood of hate and death threats she receives on social media for her work. She’s attempting to write a new book, but her attention can’t resist falling back into the rabbit-hole of insults online to the point she decides to take action into her own hands. Something that seems to cure both her hunger for revenge, and her sudden writers block.
I had such a blast with this film. It was unassumingly humorous, socially thought provoking, and delightfully unrelenting. The story weaves a very grounded portrayal of the online world, without the exaggerations we often see in movies. Femke is a writer and that puts her out there for the world to see and in doing so that opens her up to the dark side of societal commentary. And the hordes of those that hide behind their computers comfortably saying the ugly things they wouldn’t have the guts to say to a person’s face. The authenticity in which this film navigates that world, and Femke’s reaction to it felt sincere and that was more than enough to invest in what she is dealing with.
Herbers as Femke delivers a multi-layered performance. She swings seamlessly from a common single mother to a person that roams the night taking things into her own hands. She’s comforting one minute, and completely unhinged the next, and the quick turns she makes in demeanor were pleasantly unsettling and unpredictable. During certain scenes she is a writer, a normal person with a career. But when she delves into the online messages you can see a detachment in her mannerisms. Almost as if a switch were turned and she becomes a different person seemingly inside the same body and this duality was perfect for both subtle humor and horror.
The pacing with steady. It doesn’t weave in any unneeded characters. I loved the dynamic between Femke and her daughter Anna played with a youthful charisma by Claire Porro. I enjoyed the contrast of Femke’s arc in this film with Claire’s. Both of which revolve around the sample topical spectrum, but on opposite sides of it. It was unassuming, but a nice touch that I feel would have been beaten over the viewers head with exposition-filled dialogue had this been an American production. Here the concise writing was able to create connectable characters and story meanings that land with the viewer to have them thinking post end-credits.
Visually it was polished. The splashes of violence were nicely crafted. These moments perfectly inject the film with appealing moments of horror. But it doesn’t try too hard. It doesn’t use the violence as a spotlight. The story itself is the focus, and that’s why it’s so naturally compelling. Then the performances come in to heighten the already nicely written script by Daan Windhort. The story has a grim charm, social relevance, and through stark doses of bloody killing. You can’t be too sure what will happen and when something that is always a bonus when watching a flick.