The Columnist scrawls a story of Twitter troll comeuppance

Online abuse earns real-life retribution in Ivo van Aart’s breezy if facile revenge story.

Katja Herbers as Femke Boot in The Columnist

The Columnist is streaming on digital platforms.

It’s unclear whether columnist Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) knows you can filter your notifications on Twitter. Living in a picture-perfect Dutch neighbourhood and with a column successful enough to garner a book deal, Boot still spends most of her time on her phone looking at vitriolic comments from strangers. And they are vile; the original title of The Columnist, De Kuthoer, which translates as ‘the cunt whore’, gives you a good idea of their content. Boot is consumed by what these strangers write about her, and when her concerns are dismissed by the police and her publishers, her world starts to become small enough to fit into the palm of her hand.

She quits Twitter – a move any Twitter user knows is temporary – trying to remove herself from harassment which, she’s told, is only online. But while struggling with writer’s block she realises that her construction-crazy neighbour is actually one of her trolls, and on a whim she kills him, taking his middle finger as a trophy. This catharsis helps her overcome her block, but also sets her off on a killing spree, tracking down these men one by one.

Katja Herbers as Femke Boot in The Columnist (2021)

There’s an ease to Ivo van Aart’s film. It’s easy for these men to threaten Boot, to leave a long online trail of their racist screeds, since there have never been any consequences for them. It’s easy for her to find them – most of them barely use pseudonyms or try to hide their home addresses. It’s easy for her to elude the authorities trying to track down this serial killer, despite her lack of precautions. It is only when Boot’s goth boyfriend Steven (Bram van der Kelen) and her daughter Anna (Claire Porro) begin to pay attention that things begin to unravel for her.

The absurdity of finding the subject of your vicious tweet sitting in your kitchen in the middle of the night is something van Aart leans in to, and this comedy is well edited and fast-paced. Herbers moves skilfully from a beleaguered and angry woman to one empowered, always funny amid cruelties.

But the lightness verges on shallowness. Boot asks each of these men “Why can’t you just be nice?”, as if the circumstances that allow such rampant misogyny could so easily be solved. Much like its title character, The Columnist is too wrapped up in superficialities, and this satire lacks any real bite.