Fantasia 2020 Review – ‘The Columnist’ Fights Fire with Fire in Timely Satire

Katja Herbers in 'The Columnist'

By Erin Brady

As a female journalist, posting opinion pieces can be akin to jumping into a pool full of sharks. Personally, I have experienced online harassment simply because I did not particularly care for a movie that somebody else enjoyed. It can be difficult to find any sort of inspiration or motivation to continue writing, but I persevere nonetheless because I love doing what I do.

That doesn’t mean that, occasionally, I wouldn’t want to take matters into my own hands when dealing with Internet trolls.

This inner conflict comes into play in the Dutch satire ‘The Columnist,’ premiering on-demand at Fantasia International Film Festival. The film centers around the titular columnist, Femke Boot, being the target of online harassment after publishing an opinion piece taking aim at the controversial Black Pete tradition of the Netherlands.

While many in the country consider it a Christmas tradition, others have called it a reinforcement of racism as it involves dressing in Blackface. In the film, Femke’s article is met with intense criticism which devolves into sexual harassment and death threats.

At the head of her experiences of harassment, Femke finds out that one of her online trolls is none other than her very own neighbor. In a fit of quiet rage, she decides to push him off of his roof, effectively killing him. This experience leads her down a murderous rampage, tracking down her attackers and killing them one by one. 

Although the movie sets up an intriguing premise, it does not elaborate on it beyond a surface-level concept. The film can be quite cathartic to anybody, especially female journalists, who have experienced online harassment over what they do for a living.

Unfortunately, the morality of Femke’s decisions is never explored or explained. In a way, her recurring motto of letting people have their own opinions but murdering those who oppose her makes her out to be quite the hypocrite. 

That being said, I simply cannot hate Femke. Much of this reluctance has to do with Katja Herbers’ enjoyable portrayal. She portrays Femke as someone who clearly understands that what she is doing is wrong but simply does not care. A lot of her performance also rides on her body language, as her posture and gestures change throughout the movie as her killing spree becomes more widespread. The rest of the cast also deliver fun performances, particularly Bram Van Der Kelen’s red herring horror writer Steven Dood.

Katja Herbers in ‘The Columnist’

Problems with the story aside, ‘The Columnist’ is a fantastic movie. Central framing is a frequent motif throughout the film, with Femke often being the center of shots while she is writing her long-gestating book. During these centered and focused scenes, the audience is provided with a visual representation of how exactly she is feeling; she still maintains control of her mental state, despite quickly becoming obsessed with killing off her online attackers. 

Despite its one-dimensional portrayal of female rage and anger, I really connected to it because harassment is a real thing that I and many other female journalists have dealt with in some way or another. Is that something I should be saying out loud?

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