GORE IN THE STORE
THE COLUMNIST ****
Directed by Ivo Van Aart.
Starring Katja Herbers, Bram van der Kelen, Claire Porro.
Horror comedy, Netherlands, 86 minutes.
Reviewed as part of the Arrow Video FrightFest: Digital Edition.
Social media and those who choose to hide behind it are mercilessly skewered with this razor-sharp satire. Whilst the title may be a touch non-descriptive, its original Dutch title of Der Kuthoer, I’ll let you google it for yourself, is more representative of its provocative and take no prisoners approach to the differences between our online persona and our “real” persona’s away from the keyboard.
Katja Herbers plays Femke Boot, the titular columnist who is coming under fire for asking the simple question of why can’t people just be respectful to each other despite their political differences. Such an innocent and well-meaning request soon becomes a lightning rod for misogynistic abuse as well as death threats. “Never read the comments” is the sensible advice offered by her horror author boyfriend Steven Dood, a character who also presents himself differently online. Unfortunately, Femke’s curiosity quickly gives way to a bloody and decidedly lethal way of getting back at her online detractors. One that involves cutting off fingers afterwards to collect as trophies.
Screenwriter Daan Windhorst and director Ivo van Aart both make a big screen debut here with this constantly entertaining and satirical slasher. Their skill, as well as Herbers likeable performance, in making Femke such a sympathetic character manages the contradictory task of keeping the audience on her side as she carries out her irrational mission of revenge. The films speedy running time manages to pack its narrative with more than enough violent yet amusing incident and a sideways look at the responsibility of freedom of speech and censorship.
Femke’s aggressors and victims are presented as those who stand by their unnecessary and vile convictions and those who are simply indulging in shock value, not considering the weight of their actions and words. Interestingly this in turn brings out the same traits in Femke whose lethal actions can be looked at as an alternative yet extreme way of letting off steam.
As a comedic satire it works extremely well. As a bloody thriller it also works, although it somehow comes across as a bit more light hearted than others in its genre thanks to its breezy tone. Nonetheless the tension increases more and more as the film, and Femke, plough on with her journey, leading to a troubling and ambiguous ending presenting our heroine as a character who passes a point of no return.
With its clever script and sure-footed direction, not to mention its varied and talented cast, THE COLUMNIST is a breezy and violent watch that easily proved itself as one of the most entertaining films at this years digital FrightFest. With a line-up that featured strong female characters in a variety of nightmarish situations with varying degrees of realism THE COLUMNIST stood out in a strong field. Ambiguous, humorous and eye opening with its shocking acts of violence, like its heroine it confidently presents the dual natures of its characters and story in a supremely entertaining yet barbed package.