Even though 2020 is a year in which nothing is certain, you can still count on the Arrow Video FrightFest. While the October festival is still going ahead in its physical form, the bank holiday one was moved online. However, that didn’t stop them from programming great movies such as The Columnist (original title: De kuthoer). In the latest movie from Dutch director Ivo van Aart, darkness, the toxic environment of social media, and a stunning female lead are combined in a great way and so “The Columnist” becomes an extremely enjoyable, mysterious, and contemporary film.
Meet Femke Boot (Katja Herbers), a columnist for the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant and soon-to-be author of her first book. She’s not afraid of letting her voice heard, no matter how many negative reactions she gets. Seems that the online readers aren’t very fond of her and her articles but that doesn’t stop Femke of appearing in newspapers and on television. After participating in a talk show, in which she asks why people can’t be civilized even when they have different opinions, she gets even more death threats, and nasty comments.
At the same time, Femke is having to deal with, don’t say it, a writer’s block and despite being surrounded by her daughter Anna (Claire Porro) and her newfound love Steven (Bram van der Kelen), she’s really struggling with it. Being pressured by her editor on one hand and trying to handle the awful comments on the other hand, Femke’s emotional level is reaching its peak. When even her own neighbour declares that she’s “a hot woman with a stupid opinion”, something snaps inside her and she’s ready to take revenge in the most bloody brilliant way…
“The Columnist” is van Aart’s first full-length feature film and so it must have been a daunting challenge to make a unique movie but still one that will the audience love. Well, that’s exactly what he did. As a Dutch-speaking person myself, it’s great to see that they finally made a thrilling, dark, and extremely well-performed film. This movie really has an international allure because it’s stepping away from the usual topics, the expected storyline, and the familiar actors.
First of all, it’s the well-thought off story. It’s very refreshing to see that for once, it’s not a bloodthirsty man who’s going on a killing spree. No, the fact that this movie is about a strong woman taking the matter into her own hands is a great touch. Even more so when the lead can be any of us as Femke could be your best friend, neighbour or just family member. She’s just like one of us. A woman with a steady job, a loving family, and someone who’s fighting for what she believes in. Just as in real-life, appearance can be deceiving.
“The Columnist” feels even more contemporary because of the way technology and social media are used in the movie. We all have social media, on which we spend way too much time, and we know how toxic the online environment can be. Still, we can’t resist checking out the comments underneath our posts and our social media presence means a lot.
Secondly, there’s the stunningly strong performance by Herbers (“Westworld”, “Weg van jou”) in the lead role. Not a lot of actresses can pull off such a wide smile while also showing the inside pain of her character. During the first part of the movie, Herbers shows us beautifully the loving, dedicated, and motherly side of Femke but when her character goes to the dark and murderous side, her performance becomes even more captivated, twisted (but in a good way), and entertaining. Whether it’s the vulnerability of Femke, her sense of humour and the madness in her life, Herbers shows it all perfectly.
Alongside her, we see two other great actors. One is Porro, for whom “The Columnist” is her film debut. Porro gives a really wonderful and emotional performance as the headstrong, rebellious but also caring Anna. We also see Van der Kelen (“The Life of Esteban”, “Onno de Onwetende”) as Steven Dood (yep, Steven Death), Femke’s new lover. He gives a nuanced and layered performance as he shows both sides of his character. The darker one but also the more emotional.
Ok, yes at certain moments it becomes clear that this is a debut film. Some events just follow each other at a record speed with no real build-up due to which they feel a little bit forced. However, the great acting, very modern story and the nuances in both humour and cinematography make sure that you love this movie.