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.

In EVIL’s Chair and Ready for a Cut. “The Stylist” reviewed! (Arrow Films / Digital Screener)

Excellent at styling hair, but not so much at making friends, Claire lives a solitary life as she’s unable to personally spark connections, even with those who she interacts with on a daily basis.  As a hairstylist, she absorbs a plethora of private information provided willingly by her clients who see her as someone not significant enough to be troublesome or detrimental to hurt them, but, little do her clients know, Claire has a dark secret with obsessively overstepping into their lives and, sometimes, directly into their shoes as murder becomes a conduit for Claire to experience a slither of momentary solidarity and belonging happiness.   Brief in its euphoria, the elated feeling doesn’t last and Claire finds herself back into a vicious cycle beginning with being defeated, but when a regular client, Olivia, begs for wedding hair help, Olivia befriends the stylist who begins to sink deeper into a misinterpreted friendship with Olivia fabricated inside Claire’s disturbed mind. 

Whenever stepping onto the hair clippings of a barbershop, sit on the padded, pump-hydraulic chair, and be asked by a for certain fallible person how I want would like my haircut, my hands nervously clutch each other, the space between my eyebrows fold in and crunch, microscopic beads of sweat go down my hair raised back and the agitation in my mind grows louder than a blow dyer on a high setting.  Why do all these externally stemmed irritants happen to me at the seemingly communal and smile gracing barbershop?  Think about my situation, one driven by introverted behaviors and pessimism for the human race, this way:  your neck is choked tight with a hairdresser body-bag resembling cape, sharp, haircutting sheers clipping swiftly overhead, and the loud buzzing of a motor purring around your ears’ edge before they detailing the side of your face with tiny razors moving hundreds of miles per hour.  Let’s not also forget about the straight-razor across your neck to attack the five o’clock shadow!  No, thank you!  So, there was already an abundance of established anxiety heading into Jill Gevargizian’s written-and-directed hairdresser horror, “The Stylist,” that takes just a little bit more off than just what’s on top.  The “Dark Web” filmmaker reteams with co-writer Eric Havens to extend the profile of the quiet and quaint, Victorian chic hairdresser, Claire and her lonely killer inclinations based off their 2016 short film of the same title and add Los Angeles based copywriter and “Night of the Wolf’s” Eric Stolze into the salon of psychological horrors mix. “The Stylist” is a production of Gevargizian’s Sixx Tape Productions, that also includes Eric Havens and lead star Najarra Townsend, alongside co-productions Claw Productions, Method Media, and The Line Film Company.

Najarra Townsend reprises her role as Claire, the lonely hairstylist bedeviled by a lack of belonging and rapport with no family or friends. Claire spirals into internalized madness that unveils when trying to step inside the lives of others as her own. The “Wolf Mother” star becomes a granular speck of torment plagued severely by social awkwardness to the point of her need for perfecting the imaginary bond between her and Brea Grant’s character, Olivia, goes into destruction level transgressions that’s normal, living rent free, in Claire’s headspace. Grant, writer and director of one of our favorite films of 2020, “12 Hour Shift,” and in the recently released, critically acclaimed, Natasha Kermani thriller, “Lucky,” has to be a larger than life persona whose the center of attention, as soon-to-be-bride going through the throes of wedding planning, that can draw in the wide-eyed and impressionable Claire like a moth to a flame. Townsend’s a specific kind of talent to get inside Claire’s ennui state not once, but twice. The latter precisely nails down Claire’s outlying, exterior behavior, but also smooths out a mustard nuance veneer of vintage chic that becomes a part of the building blocks peculiarly exclusive to her quietly disruptive cause. Starkly contrasted against Claire, Grant relates to who we all see on the outside as Olivia, a shining glow of smiles and worries that most people can digest with ease on a daily bases and while her life, as chaotic as may seem with a wedding near on the horizon and questioning a deep down decision about marriage, is juxtaposed with such distinction that Gervargizian literally puts Claire and Olivia side-by-side in a split screen early in the film to expose one hiding her secrets and the other letting them all hang out. Sarah McGuire (“The House of Forbidden Secrets”), Millie Milan (“Clownado”), Davis DeRock and Laura Kirk round out the supporting cast.

Take a moment and breathe the very essence of women-driven horror that’s as stylish as it is deliciously deranged.  “The Stylist” echoes similar psychopathic traits of William Lustig’s “Manic” and displays self-careening elements soaked in barbicide and Gothicism.  The junior film of Jill Gevargizian narrates through the eyes of Claire’s unraveling humanity from the stylist’s quick fix of bloody hair removal to the potential for climbing out of that deep, dark hole of loneliness only to be suddenly sideswiped by the falters of manufactured delusions. “The Stylist” is wrapped in a sullen hairnet that never shows the jovial side of Claire’s pleasures as she’s embodying someone under their locks after calculatingly cutting more than just their hair; a perspective exclusively held within Claire’s head, leaving viewers entangled in her in seemingly normal beauty shell and her inner demented chaos. You feel sorry for her forlorn life, but creeped out by that same life’s byproduct. One aspect that “The Stylist” lacks, that can be off-putting for some, is the mold that made Claire. Miniscule slips of her upbringing becomes not enough to paint an exact portrait of Claire as a malevolent monster with sociable dysphoria and as the story builds to a climax and Claire tries to imitate her mother, who died in her mid 30’s when Claire was 17, the mimicry fairs to say that her mother also had similar problems that has innately passed and has coped a different way of dealing with mental illness by way of alcoholism, mentioned by Claire in a moment of courting a friendship with an eager bridezilla, Olivia.

What a fitting film to be discussed and celebrated on International Women’s Day 2021 in the Jill Gevargizian directed and Najarra Townsend lead “The Stylist” now released exclusively on Arrow Film’s UK VOD platform ahead of the physical Blu-ray package and digital HD releases come June 2021. Film film clocks in at a 105 minute runtime and is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Behind the camera is Robert Patrick Stern whose composition of imagery is based mainly in natural lighting while dabbling in warm coloring such as reds, the occasional vibrant magenta, and a consistent yellow mustard, a favorite not only in Claire’s wardrobe but also tinged on the lens whenever a part of Claire’s localized disturbia. Stern’s clean and sleek picture palpably elevated John Pata’s editing of montages that were superimposed with transitions and the soul searing music of Nicholas Elert’s melancholic inducing piano-industrial score. There were no bonus features included nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “The Stylist” honors the past by reinventing the wheel in Jill Gevargizian’s clipping thriller with a hair-raising performance by Najarra Townsend as the maniacal hairdresser lonely next door.

Nurses’ Put Up With All Kinds of EVIL in a “12 Hour Shift” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

In the dwindling days leading up to the turn of the century, Mandy is about to start a 12 hour nursing shift at an Arkansas Hospital.  As a side gig, Mandy must supply fresh internal organs to her dimwitted cousin and organ mule, Regina, to earn a little extra cash to pay for her narcotic habit, a condition prolonged and sustained by a front desk colleague.  When Regina misplaces the bag full of internal organs and doesn’t deliver them to her ignoble black market boss, she returns to the hospital desperate and corners Mandy into coughing up more, even if that means killing a patient or two.   When Mandy profusely refuses, but reluctantly complies, Regina still takes matters into her own reckless hands and as the bodies begin to pile, Mandy has to stave off police interrogation and suspicion long enough to get through the long night shift of twisted circumstances and peculiar characters.

As if nurses didn’t already work tediously long hours on normal circumstances as it is, Brea Grant’s pitch black comedy, “12 Hour Shift,” is a cardiac inflamed melee of drug users, a convicted cop killer, and black market goons slaughtering it out with hapless patients caught in the middle.  “12 Hour Shift” is the sophomore film written and directed by Grant, released 7 years following her feature debut of the apocalyptic drama, “Best Friends Forever,” in 2013 as Grant also costars alongside Vera Miao as a pair of BFF journeywomen.  Now, Grant steps fully behind the camera, cherry picks real life headlines, and blends them with urban myths to inject cynicism right into our plump veins with pulpy anti-heroes and a graphic violence backdropped with a Y2K hyperbole.  Shot on location in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the film is produced by Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne of HCT Media and alongside actors, Tara Perry and David Arquette, and David’s wife, Christina McLarty Arquette. 

“May” star Angela Bettis jumps into scrubs as the steely junkie, Mandy, who teeters on benevolence after a streak of merciful killings of terminally ill patients for vital organs in exchange for addiction withdrawal averting cash. Mandy is stuck between a motley nursing staff, unpredictable cops, and a pair of bad guys as the coupling link scrambling to tread above water.  Bettis brings her harried eyed fortitude as a sarcastic and solitude-immersed nurse who is a jack of all trades contending internally with paper thin sympathetic motivations paralleling her self-preserving abilities.  Mandy’s calculating, on-the-fly smarts comes under threat by Regina’s halfwit, caution to the wind, sociopathy, housed under blonde teased hair sitting upon a model’s thin frame from the build of Chloe Farnsworth (“Crying Wolf 3D”) who dons crazy like a dunce cheerleader of a Renaissance slasher of an 80’s throw back, but instead of being the chest-baring victim killed while having prematernal sex in the woods, Regina is a scrappy and determined go-getter with more Cheeto dust on her fingers than braincells in her brain.  Grant paints a hefty list of colorful characters, written to ooze their own sanctimonious nature or Podunk refinement, a pair of inglorious splendor fallacies of small Southern townsfolk.  Dusty Warren plays one of those roles in the tactless ponytail wearing Mikey, the right hand muscle of the organ trafficker, and Mikey has nerveless feelings toward those that surround him except for his boss and, then, there’s Tara Perry’s Dorothy, a religious chatty-Cathy nurse who is essentially the most good, but less influential character of the whole rotten bunch.  “12 Hour Shift” cast rounds out with Kit Williamson as the cute, but hopelessly funny beat cop, Nikea Gamby-Turner as Mandy’s side hustling quasi-employer/colleague of drugs and organ, Brooke Seguin as the tireless nurse shift supervisor, and a pair of wrestlers, the only and only Mankind, Mick Foley, and the actor-turned-wrestler, David Arquette (“Scream”), who I must note is perhaps in the best shape of his life for this film.

“12 Hour Shift” comes off as like a big, crass joke on Southerners with a bloody knuckle one-two punch domino effect of disaster after disaster mayhem.  Grant satirically captures the hackneyed perceptions of a small Arkansas town from the late 1990s, complete with tube televisions and really bad hairstyles, that doesn’t the support the age old Southern mantra that is Southern Hospitality.  Every character touts an awful version of themselves.  Even Mandy, a junkie who commits unauthorized euthanasians with bleach in exchange for cash, crowns being perhaps the absolute worst of the entire character pool, but endeavors through the chaos as an anti-heroine we want to cheer for but is nowhere on the brink of amiability.  A strong point for Grant is giving every character, from scarce to principle, a once over and also touching on them periodically throughout to keep the minor parts existing in the back of the mind  Only David Arquette’s convicted death row inmate, emitted into the hospital due to self-harm, is the only role that feels half-heartedly fleshed out as a small story outlier or maverick whose dynamic is to only add another layer of obstacle fear without becoming too involved with the heart of the organ trafficking plotline.  The comedic air is dry, bloody, and not egregiously over the top in savoring enough plausibility of the abstracted truths to be told in a verse narrative that relies much on Matt Glass’ cymbal, bass, and snare drum soundtrack to provide an unique rhythm for a feminist story.  The two female leads absorb, react, and solve the issues on their own without male assistance; Mandy’s very own half-brother lies comatose for all of the duration and he’s even the reason for Mandy’s pounding addiction, but she still exhibits compassion for family, as we also see with her cousin by marriage, Regina, in the last act, and will do anything to guarantee his safety.  The attributes of the male characters are inversely heroic with qualities like whining, coquettish, uncouth, and gullible running rampant amongst the behaviors; ergo, female characters Mandy, Regina, and even Nikea Gamby-Turner’s Karen have room to grow in the timespan of Brea Grant’s “12 Hour Shift.”

 

Magnet Releasing and HCT Media in association with One Last Run presents “12 Hour Shift,” stat, releasing this Friday, October 2nd in theaters and video on demand.  The black comedy from the United States clocks in at 87 minutes of a shift from hell.  Since the screener provided was of a new theatrical release, there will be no A/V specs listed and critiqued.  The only bonus feature outside the any kind of physical release is an extended last scene after the principle credits role that encourages more hospital mayhem, but will alas leave open ended about the destruction that would ensue.   Aforesaid, Matt Glass serves as the composer on the film, but the multi-hatted filmmaker also serves as the director of photography, producing tactile scenes with a lot of rich, natural lighting on a slightly higher contrast scale and with pockets of brilliant, soft hues to exude more dastardly situations. “12 Hour Shift” goes to show you, in extreme measures and unpredictable circumstances, much like real life hospital scenarios, the rigors and pressures of nursing can be unfathomably taxing, but under the gun (literally in the movie), the nursing staff can overcome all obstacles and filmmaker Brea Grant, in her own style, honors with a gritty, black comedy for the profession that, in many instances, goes unappreciated and thankless.