“It’s just the internet; it isn’t real.”
“Never read the comments.”
“It was only a joke.”
If you have ever spent any time on the internet, on social media or forums or any site where people can leave comments, these phrases should sound familiar. The internet is the great democratizer, rendering everyone’s voice the same volume no matter what they’re saying. The problem is that a lot of people only have awful things to say.
This is the world we inhabit. It’s the same in the world of Femke Boot, a successful columnist for a dutch website and magazine. She writes, and people comment. Femke doesn’t live in our world through which means that when she has had enough, she has really had enough.
At the start of The Columnist, Femke has written a piece about Black Pete –the blackfaced companion of Santa Claus in the Netherlands– and has raised the ire of several racist and misogynist men on the internet, and her Twitter feed becomes a litany of insults. Then, one afternoon, she recognizes a face: her neighbour. This man appears innocent enough and pleasant enough, despite the fact that construction sounds come from his flat constantly, but there he is online calling for her death, posting memes of President Trump, and calling for the Dutch border to be closed to immigrants.
Fed up, she climbs out unnoticed to the roof where he is working, and he ends up in a twisted heap on the patio. Yes, this is a revenge story, and maybe one that anyone who has put themselves out there on the internet can relate to.
After this first murder, the novel she had been struggling to start pours itself onto her computer screen, and she seduces another author she sparred with on TV.
The film wastes no time in the first act but makes the smart choice to start the story after she’s already under attack from an army of trolls, so when she goes from frazzled to frustrated to fatal in the first 20 minutes of the film, it’s believable. Maybe even understandable.
Katja Herbers (probably best known for her recurring role on HBO’s Westworld) is fantastic as Femke, particularly in the scenes where she confronts the trolls she has managed to track down and asks them to their faces about the things they say online. Herbers navigates the changes in Femke’s demeanour as she moves from timid but upset to confident and furious masterfully. There is casual malice underlying everything she says in the aforementioned scenes, and a palpable sense of relief she exudes whilst doing what she does makes the scenes a delight to watch.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Femke’s story, one that exists as a fantasy in a heightened reality, ends in a less sympathetic place than where it begins. While she’s enacting revenge that many may have fantasized about, she is also, you know, murdering people.
The journey to get to that end is fun to watch, and Herbers puts in an outstanding performance, so add this one to your to-watch list for sure.
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