Fantasia Film Festival 2020 Screening – Exquisitely crafted, and excruciatingly raw — THE COLUMNIST asks us to reflect on free speech, and what our words do to others. How far does “free speech” extend, and what happens when someone takes flippant internet comments to heart?

Femke Boot (Katje Herbers) is a columnist and author for a successful web publication. She’s been invited on television shows, she’s working on her first book, and she’s writing article after article on issues most people won’t tackle. What starts out as a simple op-ed piece about the Christmas Tradition of “Zwarte Piet” (“Black Pete”), a controversial holiday character who is a companion of St. Nicholas, turns into a proverbial burning at the stake for Femke. Immediately comments from all over the web begin pouring in, lambasting her for writing such a heated piece on a long time Dutch tradition – even if that tradition includes dressing in blackface. Every attack that can be made against a female writer begins pouring in, including death threats. Slowly, Femke finds herself obsessing over these comments, laying awake at night reading them. Even as her life begins to shift – a book deal, a new fellow author boyfriend (Bram van der Kelen), opportunities to advance her career – her mind is completely occupied by anonymous tweets and hatemail. Finally, as the threats advance from rude and bigoted to slanderous, Femke has had enough.

One dangerous part of speaking your mind on the internet is that you’re easily traceable once you comment. Social media accounts are all linked to a person somewhere, right? How hard would it be for Femke to find these people and give them a piece of her mind? Only… a piece of her mind isn’t what they’ll be getting, and instead, she’ll come home with a piece of them. Quickly, Femke realizes the thrill she gets from seeking revenge against her attackers – and her obsession redoubles. Her boyfriend Steven and her daughter Anna (Claire Porro) are left baffled by her bizarre behavior and increased absence. As Anna speaks at her school about free speech, Femke seeks a repeat offender antagonist, with her steely eyes set on revenge.

THE COLUMNIST is almost too close to home in our modern, social media-obsessed world. Especially in times like these, when political ire is up, economic disaster is imminent, and everyone has a little more time on their hands. Tensions are incredibly high, and no one is able to look past their own agenda to see the humanity in others. Femke continually makes references to “being nice” and “being kind”, saying how it is not hard to be kind to others … sure, she’s saying it with a shotgun in her hand, but who’s counting? Her cognitive dissonance is profound and remarkable to watch. Herbers’ performance is driven, cold, but nurturing and maternal at times. In a unique to this American viewer twist, Femke is portrayed as the mother of a nearly-adult child and a divorcee, but also as a girlfriend, a vitally sexy woman, and a driven career-person. Like every part of this film, Femke seems simple, one dimensional – but is hiding layers and intricacies just beneath the surface.

Beautifully directed by Ivo van Aart, the double whammy ending of THE COLUMNIST left me astounded and glued to the seat. The slower burn of Femke’s crimes reach a head so quickly and with such razor precision, I found myself gasping out loud with each turn of the last act. The final reveal of Femke’s final turn is something remarkable to behold – a cold, calculated killer taking her final bow. THE COLUMNIST is controversial, riveting cinema at its finest.

10/10 stars

THE COLUMNIST
RATING:UR
Runtime:1 hr 27 Mins.
Directed By:
Dan Windhorst
Written By:
Ivo van Aart