Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) needs to get off Twitter. Who doesn’t? She’s a Dutch columnist who has made the fatal mistake of being a woman having opinions in public, and everything she does results in a flurry of dedicated Twitter hate: She’s too political, and why should she give them advice? She should focus on the domestic. She’s just writing about the domestic? What a waste of time. Why is this taking up space? Why is she getting paid for this? Femke can’t stop obsessively scrolling through all the casually misogynistic and vindictive criticism, and then she discovers that one of the men behind the threatening online comments is her next-door neighbor. She lashes back at him, destroying his fence–and when that catharsis doesn’t last, she murders him and takes his middle finger as a trophy: Fuck me? No, fuck you.
The Columnist is partly a dark comedy, so Femke’s eventual transformation into a serial killer targeting her online critics has its amusements and satirical points. But part of what elevates all this a little is that the movie still gives her actions a sense of moral weight. She has a surprisingly touching romance with a theatrically Goth horror author who not only tries–as her daughter tries–to keep her from constantly searching for negativity but also to develop a framework for all this as a kind of public theater. It’s not a flawless approach, because a lot of the vitriol hurled at Femke is horrifying, and thinking of some of these men only hating her performatively isn’t all that reassuring, but it’s a potentially sanity-saving one that she ignores because, by this point, she wants to be saved less and less. Lashing back is much more satisfying. Her embrace of her actions–and increasing rejection of any other options–has a genuine darkness to it that does make the movie successful as horror. There are also several nice characterization grace notes that flesh out the people she’s hurting–partly her literal victims, who react with varying shades of terror, appeasement, and defiance, but also her boyfriend and her daughter, who find themselves emotionally abandoned during all this. The movie’s eventual transformation into a kind of tragedy (with an ironic twist that can only be short-lived) may further jumble the tone, but it also reveals the full and striking muddle of who Femke has been all along.
The Columnist is streaming on Shudder.