[FrightFest 2020 Review] The Columnist/De Kuthoer ‘Spoiler Free’

Like anyone with a presence online, I’ve had to deal with a fair amount of hate and ignorance, mostly for just existing as someone that is neither cis nor straight. *cough* twitter *cough* I quickly learned that the worst thing I could do, for my own sake, was to give that negativity any of my time and energy.
The Columnist is a film that weaves together suspense and shockingly casual violence to tell the story of a woman that struggles to separate herself from the things said about her on social media, and the message at the core of it is one that feels particularly relevant today.

A dutch film otherwise known as De Kuthoer, this black comedy thriller was written by and directed by Ivo can Aart, it made it’s UK premiere at and was my third watch of the festival, one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Femke Boot is a newspaper columnist and author suffering with writer’s block. After openly criticising Black Peter, the tradition of dressing up using black face at Christmas, she begins receiving a lot of online hate and even death threats, and it interrupts her ability to actually write anything.
The film opens with Femke appearing on a talk-show, in it she’s pleading for people to normalise having different opinions on a subject and being nice about it, and most importantly to remember that there are real people with real feelings behind those opinions. Alongside her is Steven Dood a crime novelist that has a much firmer grasp on his online presence, he understands when to use it and when to ignore social media. Later he even admits that this persona is to help make sales. And he abides by the one rule of the internet, which he spends the entire film reiterating to Femke, “never read the comments!”

It’s a smart policy and one I always try to abide by, but there are occasions when it’s impossible to avoid, especially when it’s a mass group of people constantly targeting an individual. And right now this topic is even more prevalent, with the discussions about ‘cancel culture’ everywhere, which is not to be confused with people being held accountable for hate speech or criminal offences. The Columnist tackles this subject in a way that feels reminiscent of a Black Mirror episode, with a heightened sense of reality and a message that may not be subtle but cannot be confused for anything else either.

All of the characters in this are well written, from the blunt publicist who refuses to believe writer’s block exists, to the principal of the school and even the online trolls. As Femke reminds us that there are real people on both sides of an opinion, the film reminds us of this with plenty of multi-faceted characters, even if we only see them for one scene.
Katja Herbers did an excellent job of portraying Femke, capturing the nuances and likability of the woman she was before being consumed by her obsession with social media. While the character of Steven Dood was not one I expected to like, he first came across and arrogant and was constantly interrupting Femke when she tried to speak, but Bram van der Kelen’s performance was great and as we got to know who he was beneath his online persona he became one of my favourite characters.

But it was Femke’s daughter Anna who I felt for the most. Introduced in an excellent scene where she questions the authority in her school, it was clear she takes after her mother in a lot of ways, both being articulate women that stand up for what they believe in.
The focus of Anna’s story is the right to free speech, particularly when it goes against those in power, which is what Femke had been doing in the first place when she spoke out against a tradition that had racist connotations. But as she becomes more obsessed with what people are saying about her, Femke finds that the only way to get rid of her writer’s block is to find and kill those who disparage her online. As she loses her grip on reality the bodies begin to pile up, and all the while the suspense is slowly mounting and the violence only grows more shocking. The tension was palpable as things escalated and it was a jarring juxtaposition to the stunning simplicity of the surroundings and the beautiful visuals captured by cinematographer

Because of who our main character is this movie looks at online harassment through a female lens, but it is an experience many people can relate to, especially those who aren’t white, cis, or heterosexual as well as and including women. As someone that publishes their writing online I have dealt with people like this a lot and it was easy to put myself in Femke’s position, the comments she received were all too realistic and put me on edge from the moment I saw them, reminding me of nights spent reading awful messages and comments from people who just want to spread hate.
At first it was both entertaining and satisfying to watch Femke take these people out one by one, it was cathartic to see these trolls get their comeuppance, but with each one she got a little bit closer to losing her way completely and it hurt to see that happen.

The Columnist is a film that will make you think twice about how you respond to a nasty message online, or hopefully, prevent someone from posting one.



They/Them | Polyam | Vegan | ACAB | Co-creator of @Transploitbook

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They/Them | Polyam | Vegan | ACAB | Co-creator of @Transploitbook