Obey EVIL’s Every Last Command! “Held” reviewed! (Magnolia Pictures / Digital Screener)

Emma and Henry Barrett celebrate their 9-year marriage anniversary by renting an isolated house complete with modern day automation bells and whistles. On the morning following their first night’s stay, they come to a horrifying realization someone was in the house and has displaced their clothing. As panic begins to set in and the couple try to flee, the house suddenly locks down, barring the windows and doors under the smart home controls, and a Voice commands them to obey every word in order to reveal devastating secrets and fix what’s broken in their splintered marriage by returning to antiquated ideas of a patriarchal system. Implanted with an electroshock device, Emma and Henry have no choice but to comply to every authoritative command, turning their romantic getaway into a house of wringing pawns.

Out of all of fight against misogynism and #MeToo inspired films that have been released in the last few years, Jill Awbrey’s scripted story is the most fascinating with an implausible overkill plot derived from, and this would be the scariest part, actual male frames of mind that were not systemically changed too long ago and are still ineradicably infesting a good chunk of male psyches today. The Fresno, California-shot film is entitled “Held,” a literally captivating suspense-thriller with whispers of James Wan’s “Saw” crisscrossed with, and I may get flak for this, Wes Craven’s “Scream.” “Held” is steered by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, directors of “The Gallows” and the subsequent “Act II”, with a follow up with edgy confines of a pintsize location embellished with hidden rooms and secret passageways bringing normalcy to the forefront of topsy-turvy inequity. Under Cluff and Lofing’s Tremendum Pictures banner, “Held” is also produced by the directors alongside Kyle Gentz and Cody Fletcher.

Jill Awbrey is not only the screenwriter of “Held” but also stars as the Emma Barrett, an internally traumatized woman weary of strange men asking none-of-their-business questions. Her feature film actress debut plays opposite of vet actor Bart Johnson. The television and “Simon Says” actor Johnson puts on his husband hat as Henry Barret frustrated and disheartened by Emma’s recent lack of intimate interest. All of the Henry’s resentment and Emma’s self-reproach fades away when the house comes down on top of them, literally, in a barrage of hidden spy cameras, an uncontrollable to them security system, and by an obscured voice coursing through various wall intercoms with ground rules and instructions. Before trouble finds them in the guise of a vacay rental, Awbrey and Johnson make a fairly convincing seasoned husband and wife with all the rapport familiarity trimmings; Awbrey instills a meekish quality that makes Emma reserved in not being assertive enough to help herself, a condition stemmed from a traumatic event in her past as the opening moment of “Held,” while Johnson follows Awbrey’s lead in an equally good job showing a nurturing and doting husband who wants nothing more than to take care of everything for his wife. When the panic sets in and the possibility of escape seems futile, Awbrey and Johnson have to use separate approaching methods and mindsets that become essential to “Held’s” time warp speeding male chauvinism undertones. The supporting cast is folded into “Held’s” firm two-lead narrative with precision story placement from Rez Kempton (“Stag Night of the Dead”) and Zack Gold (“Fear Lives Here”).

“Held” is a fight in hell for women who feel that there is life bares no choice in the matter, when their voice is silenced by fear, when the prospect of death is as strong as a masculine build, and when an atrocious past experience hinders personal growth. The commanding-to-demanding obedience tale freefalls from worse case scenario to the absolute worst case scenario of a clear cut redeeming need for change and to once and for all extinguish the old-fashioned binary thought of men being stronger, faster, smarter, better, and more dominate then women. Speaking of old-fashioned, Cluff and Lofing incorporate 1950s era technology, such as a tube television set, rotary phone, and computers with nobs and dials, into the vacation rentals’ futuristic hardware as a symbolizing blend of the seemingly evolved present day man being motivated and driven by antiquated thoughts. The filmmakers also work in nicely Awbrey’s misinterpretation of a Biblical paradise by parochial views by warping the fabled beginnings of man and woman for their own selfish desires. The plot point twist was uncomplicatedly easy to predict but wasn’t necessarily unwelcomed either as the turning point layered a crazy subplot involving a radical marketed and hairbrained scheme with such audacity it’s felt unbelievable. And there were a handful of select scenes that did feel unbelievable by computing more a comical reaction than a petrifying one as perhaps intended. What’s probably more even more of a quirk in “Held” is the script’s subdued dialogue that garnished with not one single obscenity, but the action, which includes multiple graphic stabbings, a self-surgery extraction, and one particular scene where Emma is choked slammed through a wall, conveys extreme intensity in a superficial imbalance with the dialogue. Underneath the tender discourse, “Held” has a crupper of brutal violence that never slips.

Those following Ephesians 5:22-24, reading wives should “submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the LORD,” will find “Held” as a blasphemous counterattack of disobedience against the strong arming of a behind-the-times complementarian marriage. “Held” will be released by Magnolia Pictures as a Magnet released film, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of 94 minutes. The Frightfest 2020 film is a perfect union of imperfect times and feminism fight back and director of photography, Kyle Gentz (“The Gallows Act II,” “Zombies 2”) captures it all with a bright, nearly sterile, perspective full from closed circuit voyeurism, to aerial shots of isolation, and to shaky cam with flashing lights to produce ear splitting pain effect. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The Garden of Eden has been man and woman’s place of paradise and destruction but for Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing’s “Held,” the battle of the sexes is more barbaric than it is biblical when Adam’s machoism stakes claim to Eve’s forbidden fruit.

EVIL Slums In The Company of Others. “Hausen” reviewed! (Sky Atlantic / Eps. 1-4 / Digital Screeners)

Jaschek moves into a property supervisor position of a slum housing complex with his 16-year-old son, Juri, after the tragic fiery death of his wife. Trying to rebuild and rebound on what’s left of his and his son’s life and waiting for the insurance money to pay out, Jascheck tends to the decrepit building maintenance and, over time, meeting the cold, strung out, and peculiar tenants while Juri attends school and becomes interested with the building’s discretionary drug pushing youths. When a young couple’s baby goes missing, the mysterious disappearance motivates Juri into an investigation, leading his curiosity to discover that the building itself, and the insidious sludge that oozes nearly from every crevice, feeds on the suffering and pain of the inhabitants.

When a black, wet stain on the wall embodies a biological presence of asexual spores and elicits the instinctual first thought of alarm sounding bells ringing to back away in your mind, this is how Till Kleinert and Anna Stoeva injects fear and biotic crud with their new horror television series, “Hausen.” It’s Bloggin’ Evil got to sample the first four episodes of the German 8-episode series that showcases director Thomas Stuber’s dank complexion of anthropomorphized leeching of the lower class, filmed partially inside an East Germany, 20 plus year abandoned hospital, once known as the GDR Hospital, located in Berlin. Kleinert is the writer and director of 2014’s “Der Samurai,” pulling from his film the lingering disembodied or dreamlike and integrating that surrealism imagery for the new series, and collaborates with first time writer, long time producer Anna Stoeva, one half of the boutique film production company, Tanuki Films. “Hausen” is a production of the Berlin-based company Lago Film, who co-coordinated the production on David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” under department head, producer Marco Mehlitz.

“Hausen” primarily focuses around a reestablishing father and son, Jaschek and Juri, after a tragic house fire that claimed the life of Juri’s mother. The series starts off with the two driving up to the housing complex and breaking themselves right away into a runaway rundown building that needs more than just a sprucing up. “Transporter: The Series'” Charly Hübner plays the handy father, Jaschek, with non-expressive can-do attitude that becomes a block of interrelation between him and his son Juri in another unreadable performance from Tristan Göbel of Lago Film’s “Goodbye Berlin. That inexpression is the intentional tone of “Hausen’s” entire cast of tenant characters who float through a barely-living existence, most living grubbily, few living in humble comfort, but all being exploited by the organic narcotic that’s living, breathing, and striving from the inhabitant suffering. Hübner and Göbel impassively shepherd along the story along that introduces new characters into new episodes that digs deeper into the complex’s black, oozy, heart symbiotically connected to a caretaker known as Kater, the very first character Juri and Jaschek meet upon arriving at the building for the first time. The autodidact Alexander Scheer touts an unkempt, dirtied, and made to look like a complete hobo in Kater who, unlike his onscreen cohorts, vitalizes the screen with wild-eye expressions and an unsurmountable jocularity and puckish wit. The series rounds out with stars Lilith Stangenberg (“Bloodsuckers – A Marxist Vampire Comedy”), Stefan Haschke (“Krabat and the Legend of the Satanic Mill”), Daniel Sträßer, and Andrea Guo.

“Hausen’s” intended aloof pulse courses consistently throughout, at least in the first four episodes, that piece together and induce layers of grayscale personalities that have been cross affected by the building’s malevolent life force and the subjugating delinquent class that feel no need to make their surroundings better as their stuck in a vicious cycle rut of drugs and despondency. “Hausen” allegorically uses horror to intensify the already tragic aspects of corrupted ethical life choices people make when drugs are prioritized as more important than others and even their own lives. The first episode features a young couple with an infant and as they attempt to stay clean and withhold what little money saved for a new and better apartment, the building reacts by taking measures in the form of tormenting the husband’s brittle sobriety as he’s caring for the baby alone. He passes out and wakes to find the familiar narcotic he can’t seem to escape on his person. The scene mirrors good intentions of abusers who fall into withdraw with the withdraws being symbolically displayed as the building’s evil doings to keep the pain profit flowing. Overall, “Hausen” drips with underbelly exploitation that doesn’t stop with just the adverse, malignant housing as it spreads into Juri and Jaschek’s tense relationship and into the ounce of good left inside them, fleshed out in scenes that become a crossroad of choices where choice A) is to do the worst thing possible to compromise the smidgen of hope left or choice B) to reserve themselves into taking the harder, but good moral standing, road and work at rekindling a tattered bond that would go against everything the “Hausen” has thrown at them.

A skyscraper of bleak and austere horror, “Hausen” houses a slick secretion of mystery in every crevice. The Sky Germany produced horrifying mystery-thriller is now out in the UK on Sky Germany’s sister-programming, Sky Atlantic. A statically lit doom and gloom scenes never venture away from the tinted battleship gray and blue color scheme that goes hand-and-hand with a cleaned up GDR hospital shots from cinematographer, Peter Matjasko, that’s reminiscent of David Fincher films = think “Alien 3” but with way less yellows. The black sludge is a satisfying unnatural pigment of midnight black that contrasts nicely against said tinted lens coloring, providing a catheter of continuously streaming tenebrosity. We’ll have to wait and see how Juri, Jaschek, and the rest of the tenants fair in the last four episodes that shafted us with a plummeting cliffhanger midway through and, hopefully, ItsBlogginEvil.com can provide more coverage on the unnerving new television series that will put a stain your soul.

EVIL in the Family Tree Makes for a Terrifying “Reunion” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Recently separated from her philandering fiancé, a pregnant Ellie moves in with her estranged mother, Ivy, whose staying at Ellie’s recently-deceased grandparents family home and packing up home furnishings to put the house on the market.  Strained with going through a pregnancy alone and tirelessly working on her theoretic book of modern medicine deriving from the roots of barbaric magic and medieval practices, Ivy pledges to take care of her while providing space to let Ellie continue research work, but the house lends to the painful memories long thought suppressed in Ellie’s mind, manifesting visions of her adopted sister, Cara, who died suddenly in house when they were children.  As the visions become more prominent, stronger, and real, Ellie questions her remorseful memories and her mother’s recollection of events that sheds light on her family’s horrendous secret of anatomical science.

From the start, the realization that Jake McHaffy’s “Reunion” isn’t going to be a happy one comes as soon as Ellie crosses the threshold into her late grandparents’ home and is immediately swathed with a blanket of unsettling ambiance.  The “Wellness” and “Free the Deed” McHaffy writes-and-directs his third film with a steadfast sense of dread in the New Zealand mystery-thriller that tackles human inbred themes of long suffering guilt, prenatal anxiety, and the role of an estranged family during a time of need.  McHaffy compounds layered fears by compositing them with the confines of an old dark and creaky house witness to all the past secrets.  “Reunion” is a production from a conglomerate of New Zealand and U.S. companies that embark on independent filmmaking endeavors by Greyshack Films, the strong female character supporting Miss Conception Films, Overactive Imagination, and Water’s End Films in association with New Zealand Film Commission, MPI Media Group, and Department of Post.

“Reunion” obviously isn’t going to be your typical relative gathering shindig with your bad joke-telling uncle wisecracking over his 10th Miller Lite or a nose picking brat of a cousin cheating at horseshoes near the pit; instead, “Reunion” a tightknit cast playing the roles of mother, father, daughter, and adopted daughter drawn together not by the sake of longing for bloodline companionship but by necessity and circumstance and imploding by the unfun games of revelations hidden inside the closest deepest and darkest of descendants. “Witches of East End” stars Julia Ormond in a nearly unrecognizable far cry of her more glamourous bewitching role in Joanna Beauchamp on the FOX produced Lifetime Television series. The English actress, who hails from Surrey, assumes the matriarchal presence of a helicopter mother overextending herself beyond the limits of her control in order to seize some kind of power she once had living in the archaic house. Ormond bounces off mother-daughter indignities with her sole child, Ellie, played by Emma Draper in her first feature lead performance. Thick tension between them causes reserved friction Ormond and Draper do well to nurture throughout while a stammering posture by “Lord of the Rings” actor John Bach as the wheelchair bound infirmed father adds a whole new layer of irregular rigidity to Ellie’s nerves and to Ivy’s patience. Aside from being blood related, father, mother, and daughter also have another thing in common – present in the moment of the death of Cara (Ava Keane). Peeling back each emotion output struggles, in a good way, to grasp the character mindset made murky by uncontrollable shaking and crying, sneaking and conniving, lies and deceits, and the disillusioned rambles that vortex around the house without pure clarity. “Reunion” rounds out the cast with Nancy Brunning, Cohen Holloway, and Gina Laverty as young Ellie.

Jake McHaffy’s “Reunion” has the hairs on the back of your neck standing from beginning to end with prolonged foreboding leading up to a shocking finale.  Between the manic and enigmatic performances from Julia Ormond and Emma Draper, a chance to rekindle the past feels like a distant thought and a lost cause being blockaded by the past’s poignant trauma they share.  McHaffy isn’t hesitant about revealing a stymieing history with flashes of image splices and flashbacks cut with an antiquated VHS-style playback producing a statically charged visual incumbrance.  The stress and strain burden’s Ellie’s pregnancy, dam breaking flood of memories, her research into the occult, and the surrounding chaotic state of the house contributes to teetering mental stability creating a visceral unintelligible and augmented reality that is too real for Ellie to keep an authentic perspective and the longer she stays and the more she’s immerse into Ivy’s poisonous maternal supremacy, only fabricating a new and scary world can Ellie dig herself out of her family’s troubling past.  There’s much going on in McHaffy’s story to be bog down fully understanding what you’re seeing and trying to piece together the puzzle is nearly impossible – I, frankly, still don’t understand much of it – but the beleaguered attention of beguiling imagery and that overwhelmingly wild ending entrusts “Reunion’s” place in psychological terror. 

Modern gothic has never looked this good as “Reunion” rises to be a stalwart of horror. 101 Films and MPI Media Group has released “Reunion” digitally this month of March, one year after the start of the pandemic that has kept families away from each other and when eases of restrictions set in that’ll shorten the gap between estranged loved ones that becomes a distressing reunion in itself. Quite a masterful brush stroke from director of photography Adam Luxton building the house into the frame and framework of the story, which goes hand-and-hand with a house that’s deemed a toxic surrounding symbolized by the black sludge that drips out of the sink and into Ellie, as well as crossing video outputs and weaving them in as well. Luxton’s imagery has formulation maturity that combines hard and soft lighting, blurring, a range of depth shots, delineated night scenes, and the capitalization of utilizing the clutter of boxes and knickknacks to tell an eclectic visual odyssey culminating toward an all-consuming finale. The 95 minute runtime film is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio with no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Reunion” creeps unsuspectingly into the skin, eyes, and soul as a metastasizing slow growth of appalling family drama.

Mobsters Can’t Stomach EVIL in “Witness Infection” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

Two rival mafia families are moved mistakenly into the same small California city as part of a Witness Protection Agency relocation.  In order to avoid an all-out territory war between the two sides, who are already busting at the seams of confrontation, the two families devise an arranged marriage of peace between one kingpin’s beautiful daughter and another’s withdrawn from the family business son, Carlo, who rather work as a dog groomer with his friend Gina, but when a new sausage food truck starts selling out of their popular menu items with tainted ground meat, the overstuffed and gastrointestinal suffering customers turn into blood hungry zombies running rampant on the streets.  After Carlo and his friends nearly escape the clutches of an angry mob boss after refusing his daughter’s hand in marriage, his troubles didn’t end there as they must now trek through the zombie-infested town and battle hordes of the undead to save his own flesh and blood before they down a family size portion of contaminated Italian sausages and meatballs. 

Mafia families and the undead go together, right?  The two factions clash in a Guido versus zombie horror-comedy “Witness Infection” from a script by Nickelodeon-animation voice actor, Carlos Alazraqui, who had entertained many mid-thirty-something-year-olds in voicing Rocko from “Rocko’s Modern Life” and comedy writer Jill-Michele Melean of the “Zombie Marriage Counseling” shorts and “MADtv”.  At the helm is director Andy Palmer who, in the past, directed generically titled B-horror flicks with familiar names and faces, such as Courtney Gains (“Children of the Corn”), Danielle Harris (“Halloween 4 & 5” franchise), Robert Englund (“Nightmare on Elm Street”), and Clint Howard (“Evilspeak”).  For the pun-driven “Witness Infection,” Palmer finds much of his muses elsewhere in the form of voice actors exposing themselves (in a non-perverted way, you sickos!) for a mezza morta borgata!  Voice talent, ranging from “The Boondocks,” to the “Extreme Ghostbusters,” to the original “Inspector Gadget,” run in unison with an over-the-top bambino in the zombie cache, arranging a small time hit of laughs and gasses with some respectable gore moments submerged in the bloody sauce.  Produced by Alazraqui, Melean, and Warner Davis, co-owner of Petri Entertainment with Andy Palmer that serves as production company alongside Mob Goo Productions. 

Robert Belushi, yes, that iconic and distinct surname is the one and the same of his father Jim Belushi, stars as Carlo, a disinterested mob family son who wants nothing to do with organized crime and wants everything to do with living a normal, loving life.  The narrative plays into Carlo being protected by his mob boss father by shielding him from the unsavory and cutthroat dealings of mafia life, but when his father can no longer protect his dog grooming son, Carlo is thrust into an arranged marriage with the daughter of a rival family.  Belushi isn’t his father and doesn’t have the wily charm that can snap into macho in an instant; instead, the “Devil’s Due” actor enacts a softer side in a story crowded full of uncouth wise guys. Carlo is also a man caught between two worlds as a man who would do anything for family, but also standing up for his convictions and Belushi connects with Carlo’s tug-a-war discord. Jill-Michele Melean writes herself a character in Gina, Carlo’s pet grooming colleague studying to be a veterinarian. Gina’s the insinuated love interest championing Carlo’s fateful decision. Melean mixes chummily stepping into the love interest role who then characteristically goes into a tailspin arc to be in one instance frightened by a severed deer head but then okay with bashing the head’s in of undead acquaintances in the next. Together, the chemistry between Belushi and Melean felt flat with a more of a friendship zone interplay. Granted, “Witness Infection” doesn’t flaunt a range of emotional drives to feed off of in a clearly spaced three act story of assertion in not participating in an arranged marriage, a bar stronghold attack, and a race back home to save his family from deadly digestion and concluding with what’s finally a big spark between Gina and Carlo in their, what once, platonic relationship. Casting also stars an unforgettable comedian lineup beginning with this actress’s voice you know, but who you’ve rarely in Tara Strong (“Extreme Ghostbusters”), the versatile Maurice LaMarche (“Inspector Gadget”), the multitalented Carlos Alazraqui (“Rocko’s Modern Life”), one part comedian and one part break dancer Bret Ernst (“Cobra Kai”), and rounding out with Vince Donvito, Erinn Hayes, and Monique Coleman as the foxy anti-token, anti-trope black woman who won’t be just another unnecessary death in another horror movie.

What first popped out at me is “Witness Infection” using severe flatulence as a goofy symptom of turning into a boil-laden and baggy-eyed zombie.  An immediate turn off by the fart and poop gags after eating the tainted sausage that pays a disparaging homage to Jersey’s cultural culinary cuts of meat has the viewing pleasure be huffed at at the thought of getting through yet another zombie film using passing gas to get a comedic rise.  Luckily, and to my surprise, the initial buildup of the outbreak happens all at once, like a switch being turned on, and then the conventional chaos of zombie madness ensues and farting is left in the wind.  However, “Witness Infection” only garners a few chortles in a flat and tired banter and slapstick comedy.   Much can be said the same about the rest of the story that has Carlo, Gina, and cousin Vince go through what feels like a redundant motions of survival action against a mass creature attack, such as an assault on a bar stronghold where they encounter a blaxploitation vixen, Rose, in a fully-fledged satirical scene that barely cups the intended result with an unnecessarily pitstop with heavy exposition that brings no motivation to the characters.  Not all fails to impress as the clash with the undead dependably aggressive, especially when James Ojala’s special effects poke through with an eye-catching overly violent money shot.  Ojala, who has worked on “Dead Birds” and “Thor,” delivers a really impressive head-ripping decapitation scene involving a toilet seat and lots of blood.  The only downside to the scene is that most of it hit the cutting room floor, leaving only a milliseconds of material to be left in awe.  Though the zombies snarl asynchronously loud with the action and sound like one of the Tiger King’s famished big cats, the makeup is economically slicked on but does the job nonetheless. 

Strong, eclectic performances and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gore keeps Andy Palmer’s “Witness Infection” as a bat-swinging, deer-eating, head-smashing horror-comedy not to miss, capisce!  Freestyle Digital Media distributes the film come March 30th on Video-on-Demand and on Digital HD platforms, such as iTunes and Google Play, with a runtime of 82 minutes.  A Panasonic EVA 1 camera was used to shoot the film under the cinematic eye of Filip Vandewal’s stabilizing safe mode approach by not being too adventurous with the camera work, but there are some nicely framed scenes that pull together the actors during confrontational and down to the earth moments with a prime example being Carlo and his father running through the stern discussion, for the first time, of arranged marriage with a rival crime boss’s daughter who is dating his brother but because his brother is sterile, he can’t have children, ergo an heir to the mafia family.  Along with the solid acting from Belushi and despite some continuity mistakes in the scene, the backdoor being open and also being closed then back to open again, the blunt pleasantries that captures firm love between the two of them is sincerely present.  As far as bonus scenes go, there were zero bonus scenes during and after the credits.  “Witness Infection” chips away at the zombie genre’s plodding wall with a pin hammer dink by stirring in Mafioso drama and diabolical flashes of gore.   

Online Bullies Deserve All the EVIL in the World! “The Columnist” reviewed! (Vertigo Releasing / Digital Screener)

Columnist Femke Boot is a damn good writer backed by her publication. Yet, Femke feel unsatisfied and unsettled by the extremely harsh social media comments aimed to not only torpedo her career in the column section but also discredited and publicly shamed by twisting events in her past. The barrage of nasty comments, determined to bully her into oblivion, plug up Femke’s creativity, causing severe writer’s block on an upcoming book her editor continues to pressure her on. When she discovers that her next door neighbor has disparaged her online as well, the struggling writer snaps, taking revenge on her neighbor and an army of internet trolls by pursuing their true identities, tracking them down, and takes her revenge, plus takes a little more for an indulging gratification.

Relevant. Chimeric. A social war on words that can be fatally influential from anonymous patrons of the world wide web is Ivo van Aart’s black comedy of retribution entitled “The Columnist.” Also known originally titled as “De Kuthoer,” roughly translated as “The Pussy Whore,” a way better and in your face title in my opinion, the Netherland tongue-and-cheek-and-severed-finger comedy-thriller is the third feature, first beyond the 60-minute mark, clocking in at 86 minutes, for Aart from a screenplay penned by Daan Windhorst. Aart and Windhorst last paired up for a Dutch miniseries, “Suspicious Minds,” and Aart’s debut film, “Quantum Zero,” two years prior. Their concrete foundation of collaboration sets up an engrossing insight on masked mindsets of internet bullying that backfires but not in the typical way and also indorses a freedom of speech theme caught in a vicious circle of death. Sabine Brian and Ronald Versteeg serve as producers under the Benijay capital investment group’s NL Films.

Katja Herbers (HBO’s “Westworld”) gives a stress-inducing performance as the tormented-to-insanity columnist.  Absorbing, like a sponge, of all the scornful negativity, Herbers leaves little room for writer Femke Boots to expand and breathe as a normal person who can filter out the harsh criticism as the “Loft” actress can tune into a louded, distracted mindset of delusion and have an underscored inkling twinkle in her eyes as her character muddles around in life normalcy of being a good mother to her free-speech advocating daughter Anna (Claire Porro) and be in a radically unlikely relationship with a gothically-cladded, fellow writer, Steven Dood aka Steven Death (Bram van der Kelen).  Journalist are trained to accept the harshest criticism as long as they can back up their stories with facts and references, but for a columnist, who makes a living off opinions, the same can not be said and it’s in that gray area where “The Columnist” likes to dwell that someone’s subjective living is under attack and the enemy is the entire world who thrives off being antagonistic just for the hell of it.  Herbers plays right into that soul sucking anger, directing all her energy into those who mask themselves in anonymity as they bombard her character with comments of ill-intent.  The frustration mounts, especially when Femke attempts to file police reports about the death threats, but is shrugged off by an unsympathetic uniform, and the pressure blows her top off in a silent switch into swift vengeance of a variety misogynistic trolls.  Genio de Groot, Rein Hofman, Seno Sever, and Achraf Koutet round out “The Columnist’s” cast.

Though not written, shot, or produced by women, “The Columnist” follows in suit with a string of strong pro-feminism films, coursing with the same blood of the feminist revolution in cinema that has empowered women to exhibit their artistry, such works include Brea Grant’s dual female-lead, black comedy about an opioid addicted nurse’s mafia entanglement in “12 Hour Shift,” Jill Gevargizian’s gothic trip into hairstyles and isolating madness of “The Stylist,” and Emerald Fennell’s 5-Academy Award nominated revenge-thriller about the social system’s gender double-standards in “Promising Young Woman.”  “The Columnist” topicality revolves around a woman writer being bashed, sometimes just for kicks of callous community fun, by a plethora of trolling men who hide behind self-attributing epithets and nicknames.  With only her their commenting handles, Google, and her wit,  Femke tracks them down comment-by-comment for confrontation with her weapon of choice, usually a state forestry bag full of gardening tools, and this is where the good writing and directing comes into the fold by establishing a complete smorgasbord of different male personalities to circulate with Femke’s rage against the unwarranted slanderous and malicious of their own doing. Where “The Columnist” also gets you thinking is the freedom of speech movement that Femke’s daughter, Anna, so tenaciously hammers into her stern high school’s administrative hierarchy, helmed by a, you guessed it, a male principal. While Anna’s story is relatively tongue-and-cheek in comparison to Femke’s more serial killer storyline, there’s a whole lot of irony happening between the two paralleling, mother and daughter narratives with Anna battling the school system singlehandedly to allow her words to ring true and free from principal oppression and repression while Femke, on the other side of coin, is permanently silencing the cataclysmic of social media hate mail in an act with a killer, survivalist instinct. “The Columnist’ is speechlessly brilliant under a candy-coated, caustic-comedy cover.

Opt into “The Columnist’s” op-ed with your own periling opinion as the film circulates around UK and Ireland theaters, and on various digital platforms, courtesy of Vertigo Releasing. Martijn Cousijn is credits as the cinematographer for the film whose mostly bright and buoyant scheme is peppered just enough with darker, minimalist lighting, askew in most case, to capture Femke’s sinister half of this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde duality with pessimism at the door being the altering elixir. Cousijn doesn’t play too much with the lighting, keeping true to a soft and bright air that doesn’t drop “The Columnist” acutely into a dismal perspective tale of a killer. My only disappointment with the film lies with the gore effects when it’s time to dispatch some rude keyboard-knuckleheads from the comforts of their own safe haven. Much of Femke’s desires to keepsake parts of her tormentors is nothing more than a slight of editing to achieve and that kind pelts holes in the freedom of speech aspect that’s perhaps one-third of the story. “The Columnist” is by no means made for young teens, but Femke Boots deserved to reign hellfire in a fiery display of well unexploitable violence. Having just released March 12th in the UK, there are obviously no bonus material, but there are also no before or after credit bonus scenes to keep you anxiously waiting to the end. Writers will undoubtedly hail Ivo van Aart’s “The Columnist” as a win against stony critics with the film’s profuse display for social change against cyberbullying and the reaffirmation of free speech or else there will be blood.