Fantasia 2020: THE COLUMNIST vs. The Trolls

Internet culture has never been a more prevalent issue in modern society. Crossing boundaries of politics and personal affairs social media and news feeds have all managed to mainline a societal angst with an agency of chaos and unsuspecting victims. It’s a phenomena that’s been difficult to capture into a narrative format until Netherlands horror comedy The Columnist came around. Making its North American debut at this year’s Fantasia Festival, The Columnist is a witty, brooding jab at the culture of trolls, the dichotomy of personas on and offline and the embrace of the chaotic danger it presents.

Femke Boot (Katja Herbers of West World and The Leftovers fame) is a journalist for her local newspaper and hosts a personal column. As with anything every posted on the internet, Femke finds her comment section a hive of vitriol following a political exposition. Death threats, mean hearted remarks and a campaign to humiliate her name across the internet plague Femke. Until she notices something… many of them have used their real names. While her publisher and a horror author named Steve Dead (Bram van der Kelen) both assure Femke that she just needs to put her phone away and ignore it, Femke remains obsessed. Upon discovering that one of the worst offenders is her seemingly kind next door neighbor Femke makes the attempt to hash things out through discussion but suddenly finds herself throwing a brick at the man’s head. Femke recoils and sees her neighbor bleeding to death in front of her but to her surprise she feels relief. She takes his middle finger as a personal trophy and now the hunt is on.

One by one Femke begins to stalk and kill all those who mock her in the various comment sections. She bath bombs a man with his own laptop, strangles another with is bed sheets and cuts to a montage of various good ‘ol homestyled killings as she becomes emboldened by an increasing campaign to call her a “pedophile” on internet forums. In the middle of a budding romance with her cynic gothic author and a daughter who’s leading a protest for free speech at her school, Femke’s murders become a perfect cocktail to her social media addiction. But as many haters as she puts down, only more pop up. In this serial killing game of whack-a-mole, how much longer can she sustain before she’s found out?

Directed by Ivan von Aart and Written by Daan Windhorst, The Columnist  is hysterical in its celebration of the absurdity the internet lends itself to. Putting faces to the avatars of countless internet trolls and exploring the license of anonymity the film puts a smile behind every stab at the callous culture. But while Femke’s rage is certainly warranted, it’s also placed in the precarious position of an often debated principle of free speech. Femke advocates for her daughter’s freedom of the school press but is assaulted by the individual’s right to freely trash talk her on the internet. Femke herself is a journalist whose freedom of expression is also a vested interest but is caught in the battle of truth and libel in a most bloody and literal sense.

Proving its whit not just in its humor but within its exploration of free speech, The Columnist is a bloody romp that knows just where to slice and deliver its blend of horror and comedy.

Jon Chamis
Black Soul / Metallic Heart
Jon Chamis is a screenwriter from Vermont whose fascinated by all films weird, horrific and macabre. From praising Bergman to defending Rob Zombie's Halloween, Jon likes to explore any artist striving to push boundaries and can be found in the parking lot before any matinee showing of a new release. You can catch him over at Letterboxd to chat about film.
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