What’s wrong with these people?
To paraphrase Nietzsche: gaze too long into Twitter, and Twitter will gaze into you. Anyone who writes for a living on the internet has surely fantasised about payback time for all the keyboard warriors, callous below-the-liners and unrepentant trolls out there. Ivo van Aart’s movie gives full rein to that desire and is snappily directed – but in the end there is something self-satisfied and sententious about his feminist revenge flick.
Katja Herbers plays Femke Boot, a newspaper columnist drowning in internet misogyny, especially after she steps out of her usual lifestyle remit to write an op-ed about Zwarte Piet, the Dutch blackface folkloric character. Her book publisher is pressurising her for juicier material to better compete with author-of-the-hour Steven Dood (Steven Death), a kohl-rimmed provocateur who savages her on a chatshow. Umbilically fed by her phone on a diet of shitposter abuse, she finally snaps when she realises her neighbour – partial to some Zwarte Piet himself – is one of her tormentors.
As her serial-mom killing spree gets under way, Van Aart drapes a couple of complementary plotlines around it: her daughter Anna (Claire Porro) is fired from the school newspaper and, via the medium of F-bomb-loaded banners, fights a battle for free speech. And when Femke ends up in bed with Dood, it turns out his gothic bad boy persona is just a pose, and he is actually keeper material. These aspects hover soberly around the themes of free expression and online identities – but dilute the black comedy Van Aart attempts to operate with elsewhere.
There is some nice absurdist carnage, such as middle-class mum Femke creeping along a gutter to tip a neighbour off the roof in her inaugural murder. But the humour isn’t sharpened to a fine point, leaving each new death to bludgeon in The Columnist’s thesis with the blunt end: online life has robbed us of the ability to appreciate nuance and difference. Femke’s graduation to monster lacks the delicious irony it’s shooting for, as a few plot-logic slips en route – why leave uncleaned weapons around for others to discover? – betray Van Aart’s haste to get his opinion out there.