Written by Nathan Ballingrud
Published by This Is Horror
Will is a guy who feels completely at odds with the life that he’s living. Working the evening shift as a bartender in New Orleans, he does little but work, drink, and try to figure out how to change the sheets on the bed he’s made for himself. You see, he shares an apartment with his girlfriend, Carrie, but his heart truly pines for his oldest friend and regular drinking buddy, Alicia. Unfortunately, she has a boyfriend of her own – leaving an emotionally forlorn Will stuck in the middle and never knowing what move to make.
It’s just another night in the cockroach-infested imbibing emporium when a fight breaks out between Eric, Will’s friend who lives above the bar, and another guy. This bloody confrontation spills onto the table of a group of college kids, all of whom leave in short order – but one of them forgets to take their mobile phone.
Bringing the phone home with him, with the intention of keeping it safe until the next night, Will finds his curiosity getting the better of him when strange, pleading texts begin to arrive, and he discovers a video of what initially appears to be the aftermath of a ritual killing by the group of kids but quickly becomes something altogether more horrifying.
And from there, it’s straight down the rabbit hole of terror for poor Will as the attentions of those who made the video are turned to him and Carrie. Ballingrud creates an extremely uneasy sense of things moving… living…. thriving in the dank and the dark below what we see of the world. Similar to The Ring, the author uses the devices of the mysterious video and an even more unsettling website to give the feeling of an inescapable infection – something that once seen guarantees impending doom. It makes for some tense reading, as you simply don’t know what is coming, nor when it is coming, for the ill-fated duo of Will and Carrie.
Being a short story/chapbook (at 86 pages in length), going into depth would simply give too much away, but it should suffice to say that The Visible Filth is an incredibly dark tale of existential horror and lost souls forced to seek redemption in the most sinister of places. Of emergence – both personal and… other.
Ballingrud’s prose is evocative and highly visual – the visceral nature is one of the most striking elements of this chapbook – and the imagery that he conjures in terms of what occurs on the grotesque video Will discovers is something that will lodge in your mind for some time. It’s thoroughly unsettling. Ballingrud knows exactly how to crawl his way under your skin… and stay there.
Some may perhaps be less than enthused with the lack of a fuller explanation for just what the grisly entities making their way onto the scene here actually are, as Ballingrud’s efforts in playing the game of keeping them satisfyingly just out of reach are less accomplished than his characterisation – there’s enough esoteric teasing going on to warrant a slightly deeper dig. Still, it’s scant complaint toward a story that proficiently works its dark magic on you from the get-go. Be warned, though… those with a fear of cockroaches and/or all things insectoid are going to want to steel themselves before opening the cover on this one.