For as long as there’s been social media, there’s also been cyberbullying. This is the negative side of having billions of people, each with their own thoughts and opinions, all placed onto one, or more, platforms. It’s also an aspect that has, unfortunately, been socially accepted which it should never be. However, writer Femke Boot takes the resolution to her cyberbullying a little too far!
‘The Columnist’ (UK title) is a Dutch horror film starring Katja Herbers as Femke Boot, a writer who hosts weekly opinion columns in a local newspaper. She is also constantly plagued by trolls, nasty comments and even death threats and, after the police do nothing, she decides to take things into her own murderous hands.
This is one of the best horror films of this year. The film is not only a fun slasher but also a social commentary on cyberbullying and Cancel Culture (where a group of people will stop following/harass someone over something they said/did a very long time ago). Unfortunately, this is something that is extremely common on social media, especially Twitter, and a side of the platform that makes the website toxic and unwelcoming to be on. A scene where Femke goes to the police highlights why people don’t tend to report cyberbullying to the authorities: it’s not taken seriously when it should be. As a writer who’s experienced awful comments on social media due to their early articles, I could understand Femke’s frustration towards the police and towards the people who hide behind their devices and say disgusting things about her, even though I would not take the same actions as her!
Katja Herbers is wonderful as Femke Boot, the writer who can’t help but look at all the comments targeted at her despite her partner telling her not to. Despite her wicked actions, she’s sympathetic; all she wants is to make the world a nicer place and even says ‘Why can’t people have different opinions and be nice about it?’. She just wants the bullying to stop and will make it stop by any means possible, a thought that is relatable. She also seems to hold a dislike towards people and is quick to judge them based only on their bad actions, no matter how big or small that is. However, if someone was constantly plagued with horrific comments no matter what they wrote or published, then that person’s mindset would probably alter a little too.
The quote that Femke says at the beginning of the film is also a theme that flows through the entire runtime. The side plot revolves around Femke’s daughter, Anna, who is trying to host a Freedom of Speech event at her school. However, her Principal keeps trying to stop her from hosting this, even removing her from the school’s newspaper team. They both share the same frustration and, in the end, want the same thing: people to have different opinions and be nice about it. But authoritative figures or bullies constantly try to break down that desire. Again, this is a want, or need, that is relatable.
But, when people aren’t nice about other people’s opinions, specifically Femke’s, she takes things into her own hands…and things get messy! The sound design as she reads the comments and tweets is a fantastic choice: white noise starts to appear before gradually getting louder as she reads more and more and gets more and more frustrated. Or it does this as she finds out more about her next victim via social media. It’s an interesting and striking decision that perfectly conveys her feelings without the use of dialogue. If this were a cartoon, her ears would’ve started smoking, but the white noise is used as the audio equivalent and it was one of my favourite aspects of the film. It was a small detail, but it said so much.
Another aspect of the film that I loved were the kill scenes. This is something that is rarely brought up when I review horror films, however it needs to be mentioned here. Each kill scene was unique to the last, and used a different weapon and location each time, showing us what the smaller scale Dexter could do given each scenario. It makes a difference to the slasher that would exclusively use a knife. The way in which these scenes were structured was different too.
The first kill is very anticlimactic and quiet, but that made it more disturbing: it was easy for her to carry this action out and no one noticed, ultimately kickstarting her killing spree. And, while it does give viewers a montage halfway through the film, ‘The Columnist’ lets us hear the bully’s side of the story first, most of which is laughter at what they wrote, or saying that they thought what they wrote was a joke that should just be taken as one. This furthermore cements the audience into taking Femke’s side, even if we don’t agree with what she’s doing.
‘The Columnist’ is one of the best horror films of this year. And, while this word has been thrown around a lot in this article, it can’t be denied that Femke Boot was a relatable character, even though her murderous actions are disapproving. It was a fun and, at times, frustrating watch as we witness Femke’s horrific treatment online and her struggles with this. It also highlighted a lot of things wrong with social media and that people’s attitudes should change, and people should be nicer to each other. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that something that we should all want?
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