“THE COLUMNIST”— Getting Away with Murder


Getting Away with Murder

Amos Lassen

Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) who is also known as The Columnist, is a procrastinator. She should be working on her second book but she can’t concentrate because she’s too busy checking Twitter. Femke is distracted by all the negative responses she receives on social media and wastes most of her time killing everyone who calls her a c*nt. Being a serial killer takes up time but in Femke’s case, it is inspiring and it seems that all the good ideas come to her every time she takes it out on someone that wishes her dead.

“The Columnist” is an irreverent comment on online abuse and the line between free speech and hate speech. Femke’s killings are so ridiculous that, often it is easy to believe they come from her imagination. It seems that being a serial killer is as easy as writing an opinion column and if Femke gets away with everything, it is because Internet trolls manage t0 get away with their threats and violent behavior.

The film wastes no time and jumps right into the story with great energy. The subplot regarding Femke’s daughter, who believes the murderer is her mother’s boyfriend seems like a wasted.

Femke has been living with her boyfriend for several months. When explaining to her daughter why she wants her to try to make the situation work, she says that he makes her happy and this sums up a good deal about who she is: a nice, respectably attired middle class woman who writes articles about soft boiled eggs and thinks the world would be a better place if we could all simply make the effort to get along. She’s haunted by snarky comments and lurid descriptions of sexual assault that men post about her on the internet. However, she is quickly running out of calmness and reasonableness.

Words hurt Femke and we, in turn, root for her revenge. Even though she delivers speeches about the awfulness of censorship, she’s ready to enforce her own form of censorship in private.

Ivo van Aart’s film shows that Femke despite her hypocrisy and the risk that she’s killing the wrong people needs our support. Yet, van Aart never makes it easy for her. Even the most unlikeable of her victims has some humanity but Femke shows little concern for her own family. What starts as revenge becomes a hobby, satisfying some other need.

Herbers gives a brilliant performance but there are issues with which she must deal: her daughter is dealing with censorship at school, raising questions around the need for authority and where power should lie. Her boyfriend’s playful approach to being stereotyped, may mean that he’s overlooked vulnerabilities and all of the targeting of individuals does nothing to resolve the deeper problems of a society.

The film makes a contribution to a public conversation which frequently refuses to admit nuance at all. We watch Herbers transform from a woman who is defeated by comments and simply pleading for people to understand that words hurt even when they’re said online, into someone who channels her anger into something sinister.

We get a look into the repercussions that hate spewed online. Filled with dark humor, this is a clever film that shows both sides, where those who torment others from their computers are cowardly and that there is no way to silence them without societal consequence.