Fantasia 2020 Review: The Columnist

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A darkly comedic satire, The Columnist (De Kuthoer) finally delivers some comeuppance to online trolls. Screening as part of Fantasia’s 2020 virtual line-up, director Ivo van Aart’s stylish film pits newspaper columnist Femke (Katja Herbers) against her online haters.

Tired of the online vitriol directed at her – from nasty names to death threats – Femke has reached her breaking point after countless friends, family and even the police have told tweets and Facebook comments are hardly a big deal. Deciding to permanently silence her critics, Femke takes matters into her own hand, seeking out trolls and delivering a violent message. A cathartic killing spree that helps break her out of her writer’s block, Femke’s main mission is to take out people (no surprise that they all seem to be white men) who just don’t know how to be nice.

The Columnist doesn’t dive too deep into “practical” matters like fingerprints and evidence that could be left behind. It’s a blood-soaked surface treatment of a killer who isn’t really doing much to hide her identity because that’s not what this movie is about. As a horror-satire, the film succeeds on a more basic level by offering a rare look at a female serial killer.

Giving a big middle finger to online bullying, the film isn’t always clear on the message it wants to deliver with some plot threads getting muddled along the way, but still offers up a topical commentary on the psychological effects of online harassment. In the film’s case, Femke becomes a vigilante just trying to teach “losers with laptops” some manners by ending their lives and taking a little souvenir to keep in her freezer in return.

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Herbers is note-perfect as the no-nonsense Femke, the mother of a teen girl whose inoffensive columns cover the mundane like the pleasures of enjoying a soft-boiled egg yet still draw vile comments. On the surface, she’s the anti-serial killer, clad in cozy knits in a hygge-fied home who is just trying to ignore the comments section. She stands in stark contrast to her boyfriend Steven “Death” Dood (Bram van der Kelen), a graphic horror novelist whose dark Goth exterior masks a sweet spaghetti carbonara-cooking, tea-making gentlemen. It’s no wonder Femke’s daughter Anna (Claire Porro) suspects Steven is the real killer.

Standing for free speech but also reminding viewers that free speech doesn’t come without consequences, The Columnist is a fresh and satisfying satire that ends with a bloody bang.

The Columnist is available to screen online until Fantasia ends on September 2.

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