Thursday 11 March 2021

Troll hunter: "The Columnist"

This may not be what the UK really needs this week/month/millennium, but we're getting it anyway: a black-comic Dutch thriller that makes a giggly sort of play out of the current culture wars and the online hate speech they've provoked. The heroine of The Columnist is Femke Boot (Katja Herbers), a nice Alpro-drinking, liberal-feminist journo who becomes the target for aggressively sexualised Twitter rage after a TV appearance, and then discovers her middle-aged male neighbour, whose all-day DIY has been impeding progress on her book, has been responsible for some of the nastiest vitriol. After shoving him off the roof, our gal sets out on a kill-crazy rampage, taking down one troll at a time, severing their typing fingers and storing them in a packet of frozen peas as trophies. The movie's sickest gag is that the more of them she takes out, the more her thin blood starts pumping again, giving her writing impetus and backbone; lurking somewhere beneath that is the old saw about scratching a liberal to reveal a murderous fascist. (There's a nothingy subplot, mostly padding, about Femke's bolshy daughter exercising her right to free speech at school.) That we're meant to take very little of it seriously is apparent from the early wink of having Femke off her neighbour in broad daylight, in full view of the rest of her street; that nobody apparently witnesses this establishes the sniggeringly low stakes. Herbers at least tries to work up a double-sided characterisation, both mumsy and vicious - her choice of all-white pantsuit to blow away her tormentor-in-chief is certainly a look - yet she's rather monotonously tearing through a series of one-dimensional sketches of wormy men. What's around her is as fundamentally glib as you might expect from a film about the online harassment of women that's been written and directed by boys; it flounders when it tries to make the transition to halfway serious, having spent over an hour running around cackling like a toddler on Smarties. I emerged feeling compelled to Tweet the filmmakers: come back in a few years when you've grown up a little, and the rest of us have seen where all these weaponised ones and zeroes have got us.

The Columnist will be available to rent via Prime Video and Curzon Home Cinema from tomorrow.

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