With the rise of the Internet has come a rapidly growing group of people who feel comfortable slinging hate while hiding behind a veil of anonymity. I am referring to the now-legendary group known as trolls. They harass anyone with an opinion that irks them. We are all familiar with this group of people. They have become the creatures that hide under our bed. The loathsome cesspool dwelling beings that, with one comment, can completely obliterate our sense of self-worth. But, what would happen if one day, we just snapped? If after enduring years of online abuse, we finally took matters into our own hands and go after the ones who make us hurt? These questions are explored in director Ivo van Aart’s latest black comedy horror, THE COLUMNIST (De Kuthoer).
Ivo van Aart directs THE COLUMNIST (De Kuthoer). Daan Windhorst wrote the screenplay. The film stars Katja Herbers of HBO’s Westworld, Bram van der Kelen, Claire Porro, Rein Hofman, and Genio de Groot. In THE COLUMNIST (De Kuthoer), we are introduced to columnist and author Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) who endures seemingly neverending taunts with abuse and death threats via social media. This turns into an obsession, which many of us can relate to. She is constantly on her phone, tracking her Twitter feed relentlessly until one day discovering one of her neighbors is one of the abusive trolls. This becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Without hesitation, she steps back from writing to enact brutally efficient action. Once she discovers how invigorated she feels after the attack, it’s only a matter of time until she snaps again.
THE COLUMNIST (De Kuthoer) takes you on through the downward spiral journey of Femke Boot. It cleverly presents a scenario in which I’m sure some of us have imagined regarding internet trolls. It’s hard not to immediately sympathize. The trolls that go after Femke are the worst. From calling her rude names to launching a whole pedophilia, conspiracy theory slander campaign, we can easily step into Femke’s shoes. We can understand her obsessively checking her social media to track the escalating comments. And, when she finally snaps, it feels righteous. It feels earned. We are there in that moment as she takes her vengeance.
However, Femke is not blameless. We learn this as we watch her continue down this dark path. While the trolls online escalate in her cruelty, she casts herself as the executioner of what she feels is justice. However, something we all forget is that these trolls are not nameless monsters. They are people too. Sometimes, they are barely adults. And, before Femke can learn this harsh truth, she is swept up in her own sense of self-righteous justice. She has become the monster she loathed. And, were it not for Katja Herbers’ impeccable acting, the execution of this transformation might not have landed.
The acting in THE COLUMNIST (De Kuthoer) is great. Katja Herbers captures the complexities of Femke Boot. She is a woman who promotes free speech for all, yet relishes in punishing those who use their words against her. We feel that tension build in her. We are there with her. It isn’t until the very end of the film, when we see a more human component to the Internet troll, where we have to wonder if she’s gone too far. Bram van der Kelen embodies the colossal weirdness that is Steven Dood. An edgelord on the Internet by day, yet a sweet cuddly teddy bear behind closed doors, he is only a dick online because it drives sales. He sees the Internet as a tool. Not an obsession. And, through apt comedic direction, he is easily another standout.
The theme of free speech is one revisited again and again in THE COLUMNIST (De Kuthoer), providing plenty for us to digest. With a theme like that, it is easily a topic that could be too serious for digestion. However, director Ivo van Aart’s execution of the black comedy elements really helps make it easier to take in. Internet trolling has a devastating impact. However, it falls under the criteria of free speech in many Western countries. This creates frustration as, legally, there aren’t really any options to deal with this trolling. Regardless of how devastating the comments hurt us or potential jobs we lose because of it, our options are limited. It is why this film will strike a chord in many of us who view the film as we’ve all been there in Femke’s shoes in some capacity. Sans murder, of course.
THE COLUMNIST (De Kuthoer) will take you for a wild ride. Utilizing a familiar situation for social media users everywhere, we can all project ourselves into Femke Boot. Katja Herbers’ performances make it all the easier to imagine ourselves in her shoes. However, by providing nuances in the writing and – overall- execution of the film, it is not long before we question how far she will go. Wrapped in a black comedic package, THE COLUMNIST (De Kuthoer) is easily a film I can recommend and will leave people talking about it for ages.
You can view THE COLUMNIST (De Kuthoer) on-demand during this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, which will be taking place online from August 20 through September 2, 2020.