Fantasia 2020 Review: The Columnist
Ivo van Aart’s revenge fantasy flick is a gloriously entertaining takedown of trolls
Written by Katherine McLaughlin
“Don’t read the comments!”, warns Femke Boot’s (Katja Herbers) partner as her cursor hovers perilously below the line of her recent column. In director Ivo van Aart’s tantalising revenge fantasy flick, author and columnist Boot has had enough of the daily flood of death threats from trolls so decides to take matters in to her own hands. This hilarious Dutch black comedy takes aim at the subject of online etiquette from all angles by debating censorship and freedom of speech in the social media era in gloriously entertaining fashion.
After penning an article on the inherent racism of Black Pete (a traditional Dutch Christmas character played by a white person in black face that has sparked a real life court case) Boot is targeted by a faction of men online who threaten her safety and reputation. She leaves social media and becomes obsessed with tracking them down and confronting their violent bullying IRL. Meanwhile her daughter Anna (Claire Porro) is busy protesting, challenging authority and engaging in healthy debate after her headmaster dismisses her from the school paper for publishing a provocative article.
There is more than one side to the argument and that’s something Daan Windhorst’s astute screenplay doesn’t forget. The launch of social media has allowed disenfranchised voices to be heard by a large audience but it has also allowed manipulation of data. The character of Steve Death (Bram van der Kelen) adds another layer to the film, tackling online personas and differentiating between fantasy and how you conduct yourself in reality.
One of the downsides of social media is the vicious male troll, a new breed of monster whose constant whining is a daily chore to people of all stripes and whose behaviour can have real life effects. An impactful example in film is the way they targeted Leslie Jones and Paul Feig’s female reboot of Ghostbusters; itself a takedown of the toxic fanboy.
Allowing Femke Boot to play out the delicious fantasy of literally taking down trolls is part of the fun of watching The Columnist and Herbers does a fantastic job in the lead role. Whether she’s quietly seething over her laptop or smashing a frying pan over a harassers’ head her delivery of exasperation and rage is spot on. Of course, the film is aware Boot is taking things too far and that’s one of the points it’s making. Words are a powerful tool and their clout on social media has lasting consequences.
Director: Ivo van Aart
Writer: Daan Windhorst
Stars: Genio de Groot, Katja Herbers, Rein Hofman
Running time: 86 mins