Social media trolls and so-called ‘cancel culture’ seem to have inserted themselves seamlessly into our everyday lives ever since the advent of platforms that are designed to give us dopamine hits from incessant notifications and ‘likes’ from friends and alike. One difference of opinion, no matter how banal the topic, can have you at the mercy of faceless cyber warriors spouting online vitriol, particularly if you are in the public eye – once you have captured their attention it is hard to escape. This feels contrary and ironic given the fact that the very same notifications designed to send us feel-good pings to our brain can in fact contain grisly threats and character assassinations that make us want to log off – for good.

That is what makes Dutch horror The Columnist from director Ivo Van Aarts feel so poignant. Delivered through the lens of black comedy, protagonist Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) falls victim to public shaming; and when the police are unhelpful in serving justice, she takes matters into her own hands, delivering revenge IRL to her victims that were once so brave behind the safety of a screen. The cathartic killing spree breaks Femke’s writer’s block – she is momentarily vindicated; that is until she falls victim once again to the all too familiar deadly trap of scrolling for hours on end through every social media platform and comment section she can find, sending herself spiralling once again. This works well thematically as we see how Femke’s rage builds and shows the modern phenomenon of continual distraction and procrastination at the hands of technology. The audience will see themselves in Femke’s technological idiosyncrasies placing them right in her gory POV. We are faced with a moral dilemma as is Femke: is the revenge justified or does it make her just as bad as the bullies?

Whilst The Columnist works well as a satire it can be slow-paced at times. Yet, in its attempt to be a clever commentary on our current society it hits the mark, but only to a certain degree. It at times feels unbelievable that this ordinary woman descends into murderous rampages by night – particularly as she keeps a little memento for the freezer from each kill. Sure, she may have been pushed to the brink by the deluge of nasty tweets, but would that cause her to become psychopathic murderer who keeps trophies overnight? Doubtful. That said Herber’s performance as Femke is perfectly wry and her final act speech stating she is ‘just a woman, just Femke’ and that the words tweeted do in fact ‘hurt her’ is the perfect humane and raw salve to the culture of online abuse.

Whilst all audiences will be able to relate to The Columnist I think it will particularly resonate with women. I would go as far as to call this a feminist horror flick. Yes, it looks at online abuse but more specifically what it means to be a woman online and how the abuse typically turns to sexualised vulgar language. Insults filling her timelines are notably gendered and Femke is vilified for even the most inoffensive topics in her column. Interestingly, all Femke’s trolls and subsequent victims are men and this has surely been included with intention. It is also uncommon in the genre to see a female serial killer, no less a suburban mother, and this adds an interesting spin that may have female audiences rejoicing and rooting for Femke.

The kill scenes could have had better-pay offs, but the final scenes do go out with a bloody bang. For a satirical revenge horror, I expected more blood spatter. Instead however, the plot does an excellent job at showing the psychological effects of social media and indeed highlights the importance of online privacy – Femke is able to find her online trolls real names and their home addresses with frightening speed and precision. There are brilliant threads throughout that feel very timely as well as an over-arching main theme running throughout looking at the intricacies related to freedom of speech. Femke wants everyone to just be nice and kind but she does not quite heed her own advice. The film is fresh and satisfying and its ultimate message feels pro-free speech whilst reminding viewers that it does not come without consequences. 

Arrow Video Frightfest Digital Review: The Columnist
3.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Emily is from South London and has a degree in English Literature. Emily is a marketing assistant who writes about films and music in her spare time. Horror and grindhouse are her thing - although she will happily watch anything if it means a trip to the cinema.