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.

One Can’t Just Pray Away EVIL in “The Banishing” reviewed! (Shudder – Vertigo Releasing / Digital Screener)

Set in a backdrop of Great Britain on the very brink of world war against Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, a small English community has nearly lost it’s entire faith in the Catholic church after the last priest suddenly and mysteriously died.  When a young vicar is offered a generous stipend, the village parish, and a large estate by the region bishop to restore a congregational foothold, he brings with him his new wife and stepchild to make the house their home, but the house has a dark history that might have played a role in the previous vicar’s death and a lone, eccentric occultist urges the family to vacate the premises immediately before the house swallows them into grave danger at the haunted hands of sadistic monks, ghastly visions, and a tormented soul roaming the corridors. 

If the prim-and-proper social class structure of Julian Fellows’ “Downton Abbey” collided with the volatile and tormented spirits of James Wan’s “The Conjuring,” then Christopher Smith’s pre-wartime staged haunted house feature, “The Banishing,” would be the outcome.  The period piece horror marks the latest installment into the genre from the Bristol, English-born Smith who made a name for himself with 2004 dark subway corridor heartstopper, “Creep,” and went on to make cult favorites amongst genre fans with the workplace violence satire, “Severance,” and the medieval bubonic plague film, “Black Death” starring Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne.  “The Banishing,” a term used as the practice within the supernatural ambit of dark magic to ward off negative spirits, is a UK feature co-written between David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines.  Maya Amsellem and Sharon Harel-Cohen serve as producers under the London-based WestEnd Films production banner with “The Banishing” marking their fifth completed feature film product and with the nearly worldwide distribution rights landing with AMC Network’s popular horror streaming service, Shudder, in partnership with Vertigo Releasing in the UK.

“The Banishing” revolves mainly around Marianne, the newly-wed vicar’s wife with a young girl along for the ride, played by Jessica Brown Findlay (“Downton Abbey,” “Victor Frankenstein”). Findlay endows Marianne with vitality as a woman who must meet the vicar’s standards of Godliness, but still be a strong mother to her child despite disreputable social standing. The priest Linus (Essex-born John Heffernan) lacks experience in the field of his cleric position, lending to question why the region bishop would appoint him to a muster a flock of faithful Christian followers during turbulent times. The husband and wife dynamic between Linus and Marianne is marred by dissonance backgrounds of a priest who doesn’t know to be with a woman and a woman who can’t escape her socially unflattering past. Heffernan and Findlay ignite as repellants of the same magnetic currents when the harder they try to extend their relationship, they push each other way, with Findlay giving a fervent performance. Speaking of performances, Sean Harris bares the most intriguing and rollicking local occultist. The “Mission Impossible: Fallout” actor parades around as Harry Price, a likable, straight-shooting outcast and a believer in the supernatural with extensive, and ghastly, historical knowledge on Linus and Marianne’s new home. As Price aims to extract the hapless from danger, he butts heads with a headstrong region bishop, a stern and solemn role secreted with distrust from John Lynch who has worked on a Christopher Smith film previously in “Black Death.” “The Terror” actor juxtaposes starkly against Harris as a character who dons a likeness to the clown prince of crime in costume than a dull agent man of the cloth…with secrets to uphold. “The Banishing” rounds out with a supporting cast in Adam Hugill, Jason Thorpe, Jean St. Clair, James Swanton, and Anya McKenna-Bruce as Marianne’s daughter, Adelaide.

Set convincingly in a quaint, 1930s English town, Christopher Smith transports the audience back in time to the predated anxious moments before World War II that would upheave turmoil across all across Europe, but though that fretted lingering of war is set as the backdrop for “The Banishing,” and is coiled around every man who served in the first Great War that brought up more than once, the root of the narrative ultimately becomes the house Linus and Marianne have come to call their home.  Haunted house films surmise the house as a built-in principal character because of either the way the architecture affects the mental or physical wellbeing of it’s flesh and bone counterparts or if the abode is actually possessed and set to harm the inhabitants in a personification of pure evil, as such with various films of this caliber (“House,” “The Haunting,” etc,). Yet, Linus and Marianne’s estate failed to become a part of the narrative limelight despite the immense grounds that compromised of a large greenhouse and a robust library complete with fireplace and the disconcerting labyrinth of a dungeon-esque basement full of barred enclosures and close quartered corridors.  Nearly every interior shot felt like a new section of the house hat kept extending upon, what would be assumed, a grand mansion that had a longer rap sheet by reputation in being a former religious torture chamber run by sadistic monks hellbent on whipping the sin out of the mentally tormented. Smith always had an eye for the unsettling visuals and sustains that feng shui by allowing time and space to be the inner horrors of a funhouse, but doesn’t evoke clean, unadulterated terror that continues to profusely bleed into the film’s climatic cause-and-effect unraveling. There is a lack of a transformative realization and a small hurtle of sedated possession to figure out that the main presence in the house, amongst the other more malevolent presences, wants something and the characters are spoon fed each and every morsel to get them up to speed. The final scene of the bishop meeting with the Nazi regime intended to leave the story open for supernatural possibilities, but felt like a more poignant and compelling crux leading into Nazi occultism, hinted by the eccentric resident occultist Sean Harris.

Morosely dramatic and haunting, “The Banishing” is an aggressive salvo of facing shame head-on, creeping into UK cinemas and digital platforms on March 26th courtesy of Shudder and Vertigo Releasing. Director of photography Sarah Cunningham has an remarkable ability to engulf the actors in the space of the shot, making them seem diminutive to the rooms that feel like a giant hand looming overhead, and with the bare, hard lighting, the cinematography is really where “The Banishing” shines as gothic cladding without a stodgy spot to speak visible. Cunningham adds all the hallmarks of a horror film with titled angles, brilliant reds, and tight shots on tense faces to garner a more anxiety that never actually pans out by the end. The organic electro duo TOYDRUM score the 97 minute film with a single note droning hums at various pitch levels that can really get inside your head. The “Prevenge” composers set up scenes with a ill-founded fears when nothing presently visible is intended to fright. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits, but one scene to note is Sean Harris waltzing with an uncredited woman during the opening credits that seems out of place but speaks to the aberrated decorum of his character. “The Banishing” works tirelessly to discredit shame by confronting truth and while we’re being beat over the head by the message, the overlay of horror is lost despite some brilliant and engrossing performances from Findlay and Harris who usher us through to the imperfect conclusion.

The Cycle of Life Can Be EVIL. “Vivarium” reviewed! (Screener/Vertigo Releasing)


Gemma and Tom are a happily in love young couple who are looking to purchase a starter home. They visit a real-estate agency for a brand new housing development called Yonder. Met by a strange and persuasive real-estate agent, they’re convinced to follow the unusual agent to tour the neighborhood that has been marketed as the family forever home with everything they could ever need and want. A row upon row of identical houses and yards go as far as the eye can see and before the tour of the rather ordinary house number 9 ends, Gemma and Tom find themselves alone inside with the bizarre agent gone. Their efforts to leave the mysterious residential suburbia proves impossible as each turn leads them back to house number 9. When a box containing a baby boy is left at the doorstep with a note to raise the child to be released, the young couple reluctantly reside into domestic confinement.

Vivarium defined is an enclosure, container, or structure adapted prepared for keeping animals under seminatural conditions for observation or study or as pets, like an aquarium or a terrarium. “Vivarium,” the 2019 movie, embraces the definition, twisted into an idiosyncratic neighborhood block of duplicity from the “Without Name” director, Lorcan Finnegan. Story concept is flushed out by Finnegan and “Vivarium’” credited screenwriter, Garret Stanley, in their second collaboration for the director’s sophomore feature endeavor that’s a panicking puzzle in every square foot of Yonder’s backwards backyard. The film resonates with echoes of Finnegan and Stanley’s seminal short film, “Foxes,” from 2012, revolving around a couple living in a remote and forgotten housing development and become drowning in obsession, madness, and malaise as shrieking foxes surround their isolated home. There’s an equating animalistic instinct to each film that brandishes many of the same motifs as well as joining themes that are corralled in Finnegan’s copious foreboding and disconnecting dehumanization narrative. “Vivarium” is produced by XYZ Films (“Tusk”), Fantastic Films (“Stitches”), PingPong Film, and Frakas Productions (“Raw”).

The happy, young love birds are played by Imogen Poots (“Green Room” and “Black Christmas” 2019 released remake), who has an underlining affinity for not typecasting herself in the same role, and Jesse Eisenberg (“Cursed” and “Zombieland”), who manages to step a foot outside his conventional performance of a rattle mouth, know-it-all. However, Eisenberg deserves the praise of a man with severed ties from reality as the actor embraces a reserved manic by channeling Tom’s obsessive need to dig, an aspect of his handyman profession he’s good at in perhaps providing an escape from cage-less confinement, and being the bearer of skepticism of caring for an abnormal child. Gemma has complications of her own confronting her educator responsibilities for young children. She struggles with internal conflict, does she still use her innate care and instruct a young mind or in self-preservation, take Tom’s passive aggressive approach? Poots and Eisenberg share a mutual, caring bond that defines Gemma and Tom kind of steady, kind of loose relationship that gradually devolves civilly, like the amicable breakdown of a marriage revealing lost, but not forgotten love between two people. Along with the surreal atmosphere, “Vivarium” grades well in the creepy kid department with the child in Tom and Gemma care, but don’t even bother giving a name. Dubbed with a playful man’s voice, a shrill scream ignited by displeasure, a knack for imitating, and always dressed in Sunday’s best, Senan Jennings’ middle aged boy presence is a supernova of chilling proportions with a performance that gives his co-stars a run for their money while Eanna Hardwicke is equally spasmodic and creepy as the grown up, young man version of the boy with a little more alienating know-how and clandestine about his origins.

Finnegan and Stanley pursue thought-provoking substance of human corporeal limitations and how we, as humans, cycle through them with such cavalier ease. The opening scenes examples this with the practice of the common cuckoo laying their mimicry egg inside the nests of other birds. As a brood parasite amongst birds, the cuckoo egg hatches and the cuckoo chick pushes out the mother birds’ inborn chicks and becomes the sole chick in the nest with the surrogate mother tending to the cuckoo’s dietary needs. When the cuckoo is matured, it is grossly larger than the mother bird and, also, mimics the bird species to an extent, much in the same way of the boy or young man Gemma and Tom surrogate as being the unintended mimicry that infiltrates and ousts the limitations of his foster parents. Finnegan and Stanley also explore the parental lifecycle with the theme that our children will replace us, extend our legacy, but we will ultimately be forgotten. “Vivarium’s” craft dictates a larger scale, disproportionate, otherworld teemed with secret subterranean corridors leading to other disturbing observatory immures, making for a stimulating meta-induced terrarium as we watch miniature versions of Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots suffer inside a screen from the comfort of our couch.

If you’re stuck at home, living the quarantine life you’ve always wanted, “Vivarium” may just break of your introverted stance on home with it’s “Black Mirror” and “Twilight Zone” encouragement. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vertigo Releasing and Wildcard Distribution released film has circulated digital only on the following platforms in the UK: iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Google Play, Rakuten, BT, Playstation, Microsoft, Curzon Home Cinema, and BFI Player. Unfortunately, I will not be able to comment or critique of the audio, video, or bonus features of this release due to the varying elements of a digital screener. Novel, suspenseful, and a great film to brood over, yet difficult envisaging, “Vivarium” truly resembles slithers of somber dimensions of an upside world with lashings of surveillance paranoia.

Amazon Prime Video is one way to watch! Rent or Buy “Vivarium” with Prime Video