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Review: Newspaper writer goes on killing spree in 'The Columnist'

Dutch satire plays with issues of internet decorum and freedom of speech

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Don't read the comments. 

It's a lesson in self-preservation that media types have learned in the internet age when dealing with the angry vitriol that comes from comments sections and social media postings. In the witty Dutch satire "The Columnist," a newspaper writer makes the mistake of reading her feedback, and goes on a murder spree to exact revenge on the readers voicing their ugly and dissenting views about her and her columns.

Katja Herbers in "The Columnist."

Katja Herbers is terrific as Femke Boot, a newspaper columnist and struggling author whose publisher is asking for chapters on her new book. She becomes obsessed with her online haters and when she discovers one of them is her neighbor — he smiles to her face and waves from next door — she pushes him off his rooftop and watches him plummet to his death. As a trophy, she takes a finger from him — his middle finger. Hey, no one ever said she didn't have a sense of humor. 

The killing liberates her, and suddenly the words for her book are flowing out of her. So she kills a few more people. Meanwhile, her high school-aged daughter (Claire Porro) is working on a project at school about freedom of speech, and Femke begins dating a black-clad horror writer (Bram van der Kelen) whose attraction to the macabre is all a show. Femke, meanwhile, is the real deal, though she keeps her hobby hidden. 

Writer Daan Windhorst and director Ivo van Aart handle Femke's story with pitch black humor and stop well short of making her a hero. She's full of contradictions: she argues in favor of freedom of speech but kills people for speaking their minds, and she knows online comments aren't real but can't help but hold people accountable for them in the worst possible ways. "The Columnist" is sharp, funny and uneasy, and speaks to the fallacy of the world we live in. It's a killer romp. 

'The Columnist'

GRADE: B

Not rated: Violence, language, gore

Running time: 84 minutes

Available on VOD 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama