REVIEW: The Columnist (2019) – FrightFest 2020 Digital Edition

dir. Ivo van Aart.

Anyone who spends any amount of time on social media is familiar with trolling. The perceived anonymity the internet brings, the sense of removal between one’s words and their consequences and the frequent, casual hatred of other people are all too familiar, and despite real-world suicides, ongoing. The appalling insight into human nature this offers is often remarked upon, as if someone has suddenly thrown on the light and we have discovered ourselves not as we thought we were but as we actually are.

This dissonance between public and online personas – and the questions about what dark hearts might lurk beneath – is the subject of Ivo van Aart’s psycho-thriller-comedy by essentially flipping the paradigm: if someone can be inspired to violence against themselves by trolls, could they be equally be inspired to revenge?

Femke (Katja Herbers) is a journalist and author who finds herself on the receiving end of a steady stream of abuse. Her calls for moderation are shot down, her reports to police dismissed, and perhaps worst of all her attempts to quit Twitter cave in the face of a morbid, self-destructive curiosity to see what people are saying about her. When appearing on a talk show to debate freedom of speech vs the cost wreaked on others another writer shoots her down, only to reveal that he too was playing a role in order to sell his book. The cracking point comes though when Femke discovers one of her tormentors is in fact a neighbour who – in the world – brings round baked hams and makes small talk whilst on Facebook launches into alt-right tirades against her and migrants.

To say more would be to court spoilers, though the redirection of her pain from interior agony to exterior agency is both joyful and troubling, van Aart balancing gleeful revenge fantasy and a nagging suspicion that Femke may just be slipping into a more explicit – and perhaps honest – enactment of the carnage which happens online every day.

Tim Coleman

THE COLUMNIST has its UK Premiere at FrightFest 2020 Digital Edition on 28th August 2020.

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