Monday, May 03, 2021

The Columnist: Hunting Trolls IRL

Femke Boot aspires to be something like a Dutch Anna Quinlan. She dispenses soccer mom-feminism in her newspaper column and also happens to have a novel under-contract. Unfortunately, virulent internet trolls have gotten into her head, but she will violently raise the stakes in Ivo van Aart’s The Columnist, which releases today in virtual theaters and on VOD.

The comments Boot gets on social media are truly vicious, but she cannot help reading and internalizing them. Sometimes, she even gets death threats, but the cops will not do anything about them. It turns out one of the trolls is even her two-faced next-door neighbor. Eventually, the rage drives her to murder and before long she is a full-blown serial killer. As an added bonus, her killing spree cures her of her writer’s block. However, she had a signature right from the start: severing and keeping a middle finger from each of her victims.

That’s the thing—Boot gets really good at killing, really quickly. It almost makes you wonder who is really supposed to bear the brunt of the film’s satire. However, Daan Windhorst’s screenplay lacks the subversive subtlety of Stacy Title’s masterful
The Last Supper. Instead, The Columnist largely comes across as a relatively game attempt to exploit well-founded social media anxiety for genre thrills.

As Boot, Katje Herbers (from CBS’s
Evil) sufficiently balances righteous indignation with twitchy weirdness to keep us intrigued, but also confused regarding van Aart’s intended tone. Claire Porro and Bram van der Kelen (now there’s a Dutch name) add some nice human dimension as her more libertarian daughter and Steven Dood (which translates to “Death” in English), the horror novelist, who becomes Boot’s unlikely lover.

There are a number of darkly amusing bits, but overall, the film has a lot of messy credibility issues. Seriously, how many bodies do the Dutch cops need to find with a middle finger sliced off before they suspect the murders are related? Yes, we get it, leaving hurtful anonymous comments is bad. Murdering people is too, right? Right? The laugh-at-the-mayhem moments will keep cult movie fans distracted, but do not look for much in terms of deeper significance. Just okay as a genre time-killer or weekend-on-the-couch streamer,
The Columnist releases this Friday (5/7) via on-demand and digital VOD.