The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Digital] - THE COLUMNIST | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Digital] - THE COLUMNIST

the columnist review
A writer hunts down and murders those responsible for online harassment.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ivo van Aart

Starring: Katja Herbers, Claire Porro, Genio de Groot, Rein Hofman

Anyone who has ever expressed an opinion online has likely received a vile comment from someone butt-hurt that not everyone shares their view on a particular subject. I can tell you from personal experience that if you pen a negative review of a superhero movie the most despicable trolls on Earth will come after you, calling you every name under the sun and even threatening your life (if you're a woman writer the abuse takes on even more sinister connotations). As a character in Ivo van Aart's satirical Dutch thriller advises its protagonist, Femke (Katja Herbers), "Never read the comments!" It's best to always remind yourself that the authors of such threats are the most pathetic people alive, and that they deserve your pity more than your contempt.

But sometimes you just want to track them down and leave them lying in a pool of their own blood. That's what Femke opts for when she finds herself unable to look away from the comments and decides to hunt down the gammons who anonymously harass her every time she drops a new column in the Guardian-esque liberal broadsheet she writes for.

the columnist review

It begins with a piece she wrote opposing the controversial Dutch custom of donning blackface to celebrate 'Black Pete', which draws the ire of conservatives who accuse her of erasing their culture. When Femke pens a light piece on the simple joy of a soft-boiled egg, it's liberals who attack her, unhappy that she's writing about such trivial matters in their journal of choice. A campaign accusing Femke of being a "pedo" echoes the recent furore that saw conservatives and liberals attack Netflix over the acquisition of the controversial French drama Cuties.

Femke's killing spree begins when she discovers that some of the worst comments are coming from her next door neighbour. After knocking down his fence with an axe she escalates to murder, pushing him from his roof as he repairs a satellite dish. As a symbolic souvenir she takes his middle finger. Next up is a man whose "woke" facade conceals his misogyny, and soon the bodies are piling up.

the columnist review

The Columnist may begin as a simple revenge fantasy, but things get more complex as it progresses and it's far from condoning its protagonist's actions. The issue of free speech is trashed around, represented in a subplot involving Femke's teenage daughter, Anna (Claire Porro), getting in trouble at school for pushing the limits of Dutch tolerance by erecting a banner with the message "Fuck the King." This being The Netherlands, the school principal is forced to concede that Anna has the right to promote such a message, which is largely unthinkable in most of the rest of the world. This raises the idea that just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean you necessarily should, which is something every proponent of free speech wrestles with. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt" may have held true in the past, but we've seen the consequences of hate speech issued by right wing politicians and radical Imams all too often at this point.

How free your speech really is of course is determined by your position in the world. A random plonker on Twitter can be reported to the police over an Islamophobic comment but an American politician can freely use the same platform to advocate for bombing civilians in the Middle East. Recently a large group of entitled millionaire writers co-signed an open letter complaining about "cancel culture," essentially arguing that they should be allowed to write whatever they like and not have to deal with any responses from the great unwashed, as though an angry tweet from WimminSuck69 directed at JK Rowling carries the same cultural weight as a New York Times OpEd. As Femke's campaign progresses it becomes clear that she has failed to acknowledge her position of power, but even when she finds herself pointing a shotgun at a teenage immigrant boy she can't accept her entitled position (not that someone's fame gives you an excuse to harass them, mind you).

the columnist review

Anchored by Herbers' butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth naif performance, The Columnist is a largely sharp satire that never preaches a stance - rather it presents all sides of a highly complicated debate. In its final act however it drops its comic stylings, and while the tone isn't as jarring as the similarly themed but far less successful Promising Young Woman, it does feel like van Aart and writer Daan Windhorst couldn't find a way to organically blend their serious point with the comedy they had previously mined from their fantastical scenario.

The Columnist is a provocative satire that doesn't offer any answers but raises plenty of questions regarding free speech. See it before the inevitable English language remake. If you disagree with my take, feel free to leave a comment, but keep it civil, yeah?

The Columnist
 is on UK/ROI Digital from March 12th

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