[Fantasia 2020 Review] 'The Columnist' is a Perfect Blend of Comedy & Horror that Will Make You Rethink that Next Mean Tweet
There’s no denying we live in a harsh world...
...Never has this felt truer than in 2020. This year has shaken everyone and changed our individual realities in many ways. The major events sprinkled throughout the year have also created a lot of conflict. Whether it’s the pandemic, the upcoming election, political issues, social issues, or even issues that relate to our history, everyone has an opinion and discussions can turn heated quickly. It is made no better by the existence of social media, an outlet sometimes filled with heavy doses of hard to ignore hatred and personal attacks.
It is this lens that The Columnist, directed by Ivo van Aart and written by Daan Windhorst and making its North American premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, looks through.
Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) is an author and columnist. She’s under pressure to get the ball rolling on her book, but she’s experiencing a case of writer’s block. To make matters worse, she’s receiving vast amounts of hatred, death threats, and personal attacks through Twitter, Facebook and the comments sections of her articles, from people who disagree with her opinions. Femke wonders why everyone can’t just disagree and still be nice to each other, while the flood of awful messages continue to drive her over the edge. Pushed to her limit, Femke sets out to hunt down and take her revenge on her biggest haters.
The Columnist is a great example of effective horror comedy. This genre requires a delicate balance. To simultaneously horrify the audience and make them laugh amidst terrible happenings is not an easy task, but The Columnist nails it. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion, whether it was at Femke’s daring escapades or the bluntness of the characters and some of their actions. This film creates a perfect blend of dark comedy and horror that should please anyone looking for a fun, easy watch.
Katja Herbers brings Femke to life with a performance filled with color and nuance. The actress makes it look effortless as she stalks and sometimes stumbles through her bold quest for revenge. She effectively portrays Femke’s descent into madness, in her attempts to stop herself from slipping further and, when she gives in to her rage, throwing caution to the wind.
The supporting cast delivers, too, from Femke’s daughter, Anna (Claire Porro), to the head of her daughter’s school (Harry van Rijthoven). This is partly thanks to the sharp, well-written dialogue. The lines flow so smoothly between the characters. It all feels so natural. Some of the brightest spots are when Femke speaks with her daughter or her boyfriend. The script is solid, but the chemistry between the members of the cast takes it to another level.
The Columnist is also a joy to watch from a visual perspective. All of the technical aspects of the film are on point. The colors, the lighting, and the production design kept me just as invested in the film’s look as I was in the story. A beautifully lit spider’s web pops up in two shots that have stuck with me since I laid eyes on them. The image is always steady and pleasing, even when things get nasty.
Is this film a cautionary tale? I do believe it is. Under its entertaining premise and execution, The Columnist shines a light on the effect that a venomous comment can have on a person. These sorts of comments may not be enough to drive everyone over the edge, but they may be enough to drive someone over the edge and that’s all it takes. Moreover, this film makes us look at ourselves and examine how much time we spend on social media and how much power we give to the hurtful things that people can say on these platforms. The Columnist is not preachy, and its main focus is entertainment, but I have to admit that I found myself giving thought to some of the social media comments that have gotten under my skin.
Well-written, acted, and directed, as well as simultaneously funny and horrifying, The Columnist is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had this year and, perhaps, one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a long time. I definitely recommend this fun horror comedy.
The Columnist will be available On-demand from Fantasia throughout the course of the festival.
By Billy Smith