Review by Sean Boelman
Black comedy is notoriously hit-or-miss, because even with a good idea at its core, a filmmaker doesn’t go quite far enough and ends up delivering something that is less than intriguing. Ivo van Art’s The Columnist falls victim to that trap, offering a few really great moments and some compelling commentary, but failing to bring either the thrills or the laughs that are so desperately needed.
The film tells the story of an online writer who, after getting fed up with the slew of nasty (and supposedly anonymous) comments that she receives online, sets out on a bloody rampage to silence her critics for good. And while this sounds like a set-up for a riff on either a slasher flick or a revenge thriller, van Art takes a much more straightforward route.
That said, van Art’s interpretation of online culture is thoughtful, if based in ideas that are already relatively well-known. Warnings that nothing online is truly anonymous and that one never knows who is on the other side of the line are common in cautionary tales, but still need to be heard as people continue to make these mistakes.
Unfortunately, one of the issues here is that the movie starts to feel a bit repetitive. The first act is intriguing as it really explores the toxic interplay between bad and worse. However, after that initial intrigue wears off, it’s clear that writer Daan Windhorst only has so many tricks up his sleeve, and he uses them all up too early.
Something that would have significantly helped the film would have been more nuanced character development. Obviously, there are supposed to be conflicted feelings about the protagonist, but there are aspects of her storyline, such as her relationship with her daughter, that feel disappointingly shallow.
Katja Herbers’s performance in the lead role is one of the things that holds the movie together. Even though the character she is given is very over-the-top, her turn offers a lot of subtlety, milking some additional emotion out of a film that otherwise feels rather cold. Bram van der Kelen is also good, albeit underused, in his supporting part.
The movie has some short bursts of brutality that are pretty effective. However, it is not the visuals of the scenes that are the focus, but rather, the simple fact that the scenes exist. Something that could have made the film stand out would have been if the kills had been more creative, using a satirical and tongue-in-cheek approach to the issues at hand.
The Columnist sounds like it should be great on paper, but Ivo van Art’s good ideas feel wasted on a final product that is sadly all too safe. Had van Art not been so seemingly afraid to take more ambitious swings, this could have been a mean little satire.
The Columnist screened as a part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 2.