“Don’t read the comments.”
It’s the golden rule of doing literally anything on the Internet. “Don’t read the comments.”
Doesn’t matter if you’re the most loved Instagram model in the world or the lowest, first time tweet writer for a blog dedicated to tiny socks for three legged poodles. You should never, ever read the comments. Nothing good comes from the constant, hate-filled posts that come from behind the anonymous avatars people hide behind and there’s nothing to be gained from digesting them as you scroll.
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But this isn’t necessarily the moral of today’s story. The tale of Femke Boot (Westworld’s Katja Herbert), an aspiring author in Holland whose main source of income is from writing smaller columns in a local paper on such wonderful topics as her divorce, and being single with a teenage daughter. And because the internet is what it is, Femke’s columns get a terrifying amount of hate filled comments at the bottom of the page. And the nastiness doesn’t stop there, as the writer’s Twitter feed soon becomes a tidal wave of vitriol aimed at the author for no other reason than her opinion is different. Or the fact she has an opinion at all.
So Femke does the complete opposite of everything the trolls want her to do; she turns the hate into fuel for a revenge filled massacre across a world of avatars and keyboard warriors, bringing a much deserved taste of their own medicine. And then some.
As the writer seeks out those that want to call for her death, or her assault, or her firing, or whatever colourful yet wholly unoriginal fate they wish upon her, the game plays out to Femke’s advantage in more than one way. The cathartic nature of her revenge allows her to sleep. It lets her words flow straight through her writer’s block; it allows her relationship with renowned author Steven Food (Bram Van Der Kelen) to blossom, and her success begins to flow almost in time with the blood flowing from her victims.
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In what starts out as a drama about a woman being harassed and scared to be in her own home, The Columnist quickly turns all of the viewers’ expectations on their heads. It takes the pre-defined idea of what you are likely to get from a film about a woman being harassed to near lethal levels online and takes them, awful comments-and-all, and almost makes you feel sorry for the trolls that wrote them. Almost.
Even more brilliant, is that from Femke’s first kill, the film takes a turn for the darkly comedic. You want, no, you plead for the abused column writer to do something about it. Everyone that has been abused online or sees the abuse others get on social media begs for the abuser to get a little taste of what they deserve. As the light flicks on behind Boot’s eyes and you see the thought of balancing the scales take shape, it is a genuinely laugh out loud moment. There’s a moment of shock, of horror, and then you can’t help but let out a chuckle as people start to meet well deserved ends.
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There is a story here of a woman grabbing back the power taken by these trolls, of an abused person making things a little closer to right. But as this beaten down writer gets revenge on the people yelling obscenities across Facebook and makes a profit from doing so, it slowly starts to raise questions to be pondered. Not just how far revenge should be taken, but how far that revenge steps into the same realms as those Femke is raining vengeance upon. The Columnist raises some brilliant and terrifying questions about the abuser and the abusee, and somehow forces an almost constant chuckle out of the situation.
The Columnist asks the viewer to think about the way they conduct themselves; in real life, in the tweets they’ve sent, or comments they’ve read, all while rolling out a superb thriller with some wonderful notes to Nordic crime films. As the film rolls up, you might not agree with Femke Boot and how things play out; but there’s something truly satisfying about the previous eighty minutes and it should be required watching for everyone. Just as a lesson. And a warning.
The Columnist is out on Digital release from 12th March from Vertigo Releasing.