Movie Review: “The Columnist” has a REAL problem with hate mail

Ok, who hasn’t dreamed dark thoughts about some social media troll who’s made disgusting, cruel or hateful comments about something you’ve said, shared or posted?

No one, right? There’s something very satisfying about the thought that some thinks-he-or-she-is-anonymous online troll realizing, with shock, that they aren’t protected from their ugly, sometimes violent opinions by “anonymity” just before they catch a bellyful of shotgun pellets.

Just me? Never mind. If you make your living opinion writing, it’s a hazard of the trade, just as much as the always trolling trolls.

“The Columnist” is a sick and twisted journalist’s revenge fantasy from Holland, a tale of an embattled opinion writer (Katja Herbers) who ignores the advice that many share and few are willing to stick to.

“Don’t read the comments,” (in Dutch, with English subtitles). “NEVER read the comments.

She lies awake at night over the hate mail. And after say, 470-too-many “Nazi” and “whore” and “pedophile” and worse shots, she identifies such a troll and knocks him off the roof, a troll who will troll no more.

Is this DARK? Oh my stars and garters, yes.

Herbers, of “Westworld,” plays Femke Boot, a single mom who drives a Prius, but like many of her environmentally-aware countrymen, prefers a bike. She takes stands in her newspaper, “Volksrant,” and takes the hits.

Only they don’t roll off her back. Femke goes on TV to plead, “Look, can’t we just have different opinions and be nice about it?” As if that was ever the case.

Her debater that night is a horror writer whose pen name is Steven Dood (“Steven Death”), an eye-linered, Satanic-goateed success at what Femke herself can’t get a grip on. She has a book deal and first-time-novelist “writer’s block.”

Her ways of shedding that and getting a start on her book? Sleep with Steven Dood, starting a relationship with him. And she starts taking out the SOBs who fill up the comments on anything she writes with the Dutch word that — in English — rhymes with “runt.”

An extra wrinkle? Her teen daughter (Claire Poro) is a journalist at her school newspaper fighting a profane (and funny) war over “free speech” with the school headmaster (Harry van Rijthoven). As Femke, who makes her living exercising her right to free speech, either ambushes or directly confronts and then kills her online tormenters for exercising their version of the same thing, she’s trying to support her kid and ignore her own hypocrisy.

“They’re only words,” the kid shrugs. “Words can still hurt,” murderess mom rationalizes.

The script here limits the pre-murder accusations and debates that Femke gets into with her attackers, choosing instead to leap right into the revenge killings. That robs the film of any gravitas and of much of its political subtext. She’s a woman writing on things that seem to enrage men, some of whom have Trump photos on their Facebook pages. But we don’t really see translated versions of the writing that sets them off.

Nor are those hateful comments, sampled generously on the screen, translated from Dutch. That’s a big blunder, even if we kind of get the gist.

I was reminded of the dark Canadian comedy “The Last Supper,” one of Ron Perlman’s finest films. In that, “liberals” decide to trap and execute the Rush Limbaugh of their nightmares, a corrosive conservative talk show host played by Perlman. That film managed to make the hypocrisy of non-violent people taking violent action over someone swaying public opinion against them by exercising his free speech both more amusing and dispiriting, in terms of abandoning one’s core principles.

“The Columnist” isn’t that subtle and doesn’t manage that finesse.

Still, Herbers makes a fine Fury, rarely second-guessing her “solution” to this outrage and injustice that’s keeping her up at night. And if you’ve ever been tempted to get even with some online tormentor with more than wit and the English language as a blunt instrument, here’s a movie that’ll help convince you otherwise.

MPA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, sex, profanity

Cast: Katja Herbers, Bram van der Kelen, Claire Poro and Harry van Rijthoven

Credits: Directed by Ivo van Art, script by Daan Windhorst. A Film Movement release.

Running time: 1:24

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

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