‘The Columnist’ is a portrait of a woman driven to extremes by rank sexism

Ann Hornaday

THE WASHINGTON POST – “Why can’t we just have different opinions and be nice about it?”

Thus pleads Femke Boot, a Dutch newspaper columnist whose regular columns incite a steady stream of toxic comments and social media abuse.

She’s debating an author named Steven Dood (the last name translates to ‘Steven Death’), whose imposing goth persona includes kohl-like eyeliner and black-painted fingernails.

As The Columnist opens, it looks like Steven – nicely played by Bram van der Kelen – will become an even more menacing figure in Femke’s life. That is, if you don’t count the publisher who’s breathing down her neck for her next book.

Burdened by writer’s block and in a low-boil rage over the anonymous trolls who pepper her with disgusting names and sadistic death threats, Femke is a woman on the edge.

She’s also something of a hypocrite, a fact that is lost on her even though she supports her teenage daughter’s vulgarity-heavy free-speech crusade at school. Femke’s hold on normalcy finally breaks, and The Columnist takes mean-spirited delight in her marauding, blunt-force campaign of revenge.

Like Promising Young Woman before it, this is a portrait of a woman driven to extremes by rank sexism, in this case amplified by way of Twitter at its most infantile and cruel. Directed by Ivo van Aart in a crisp, attractive production, The Columnist features a literally nail-biting lead performance from Katja Herbers, whose doe-eyed expression and tasteful tartan wardrobe (she has a thing for blackwatch plaid) disguises the heart of a natural born killer.

Unfortunately, The Columnist doesn’t live up to its initial promise: What might have been a trenchant cultural critique couched within poisonously playful genre exercise becomes an indulgence in undifferentiated rage for its own graphic sake.

As Femke grows more angry and her rampage more emboldened, the movie becomes more facile, devolving into a bloody but superficial portrait of grievance and moral obliviousness.

After all the body horror and finely tuned psychological tension, The Columnist ultimately advances a conclusion that’s obvious in any language: Never read the comments.

Katja Herbers plays Femke Boot, the titular character in ‘The Columnist’. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST