Reviews

The Visible Filth, by Nathan Ballingrud

theartolater's review

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5.0

Having spent a good deal of the last couple years delving into horror and weird fiction when it comes to my adult choices, a book that kept popping up on a few recommendation lists was this novella, The Visible Filth. I figured I'd like it, but certainly not as much as I ended up loving it.

The story is about a bartender who grabs a cell phone left behind after a fight. He tries to communicate with a friend of the owner, but what he thinks is a prank quickly escalates into something much, much more sinister.

Why this worked for me is, in part, due to a lot of the weird/horror stuff I tend toward, which either takes place in alternate worlds entirely or exists in a world where technology isn't central to the story. This tale instead takes the existing tropes (it's The Ring-esque in some regards) and adds a technological element to it that is both relatable and uncomfortable along the way. The reminders to the popularity of shock sites from early internet days was not lost on me, either, and all combined made for a creepy and awesome read.

Got this one from the Amazon Prime Lending Library, so it's worth a read if you're into this and have a freebie for the month. I assume it's Unlimited, too.

sincerelymendacious's review

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dark mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

discoverypaper's review

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dark tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.5

eegah's review

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dark fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.5

Well, it was a gross as promised. The atmospheric painting was good. Not really sure about the deeper meaning of the story though, if there is one. 

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chmccann's review

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5.0

I often have insomnia around 3am, and will read my Kindle in bed while I wait for sleepiness to return. Last night I took the opportunity to read The Visible Filth.

I do not recommend reading the novella in this manner.

Or maybe I do, because it certainly primed my brain for this creepy, disturbing tale. I often appreciate weird fiction at an intellectual, rather than emotional, level, but this reached right into my lizard brain and pushed all the "dread" buttons.

There was one refuge within the story that kept me from hiding it until sunrise - I really disliked the protagonist, and didn't relate to him much. I think this is a feature, not a bug - fully intended by Ballingrud to allow readers enough space to break the tension . . . then allow it to build again.

Will is shallow and selfish, and his life is a million miles from my happy suburban existence. At one point, he practically breaks the fourth wall: "He imagined himself observed and understood by an invisible witness. Would there be room for sympathy? Or would he be damned by it?" For me, the answer was "a little of each." Will isn't sympathetic overall, but his foibles are so very empathetically human, we can relate to his individual temptations and failures, even if we judge their ultimate accumulation.

Enough about Will - you want to know why this scared me, right? The core is that perennial human weakness - the temptation to Look. From Lot's wife and Orpheus right on through Bird Box, this unsettling compulsion to examine forbidden, horrible things resonates throughout human storytelling.

(A pause here to recognize the homage to [b:The King in Yellow|32277642|The King in Yellow|Robert W. Chambers|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1475221812s/32277642.jpg|52901661], where characters are tempted to read a notorious banned play, despite their knowledge that it drives readers mad. I'm sure the cell phone is yellow for a reason; and what's a better Millennial analog to such a play than the Deep Web?)

Ballingrud presents the common experience of this temptation with the perfect blend of implication and disclosure. The characters wonder and investigate, and we get some revelation, but nothing that comfortably reduces the horror to a manageable set of rules. If you hate ambiguity in your horror, this probably isn't for you. But if you agree with Stephen King that Nothing is so frightening as what's behind the closed door. . . . , come right in and make yourself comfortable - I have some insomnia to share with you.

bloodinthesigil's review

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5.0

Absolutely cannot wait to see this turned into a movie!!

thomaswjoyce's review

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5.0

Yup. Definitely creepy as hell. This story was brought to my attention by the This Is Horror podcast (operated by the same people who published Mr. Ballingrud's novelette) and I have only just gotten round to reading it. It is an atmospheric story, complete with a realistic setting and well written characters (taken from the author's own past experiences). I had a vague idea of where the story was headed due to what I had gleaned from his interview on the podcast but then I was grabbed by his writing and I just couldn't put it down. The pressure just builds right up to the finale and then...well, let's just say, the visual horror depicted by his prose will stay with you. And there's not a damn thing you can do about it!

motherhorror's review

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5.0

So I have the collection WOUNDS: Six Stories from the Border of Hell as an ARC but being the impish little horror fan that I am, I saw that one of the stories, THE VISIBLE FILTH is getting the silver screen treatment. The movie should be out this summer, 2019 and I wanted to get a jump on it (cuz spoilers). However, after reading the story--I doubt I'd be able to watch a movie version! Too scary!
*rolls up sleeves*
Let's discuss (spoiler free as per usual)
This short story, about 70 pages, was my first read of author Nathan Ballingrud and it could not have made a more lasting impression on me.
There are two levels of interest that play off each other in THE VISIBLE FILTH; almost like Ballingrud is some kind of wordslinging-magician, expertly trained in the art of misdirection, "Look over here, Reader. Watch these young, immature people engage in toxic relationships while I work on something sinister over here in your periphery."
Every time Ballingrud peeled back the curtain to reveal a glimpse of what stirred behind the scenes, he simultaneously orchestrated the characters to shuffle about and cover it up again. As a result, the tension building is extraordinary; ultimately setting the stage for an eye-popping, mind-blowing ending.
Truly amazing.
I loved the way the protagonist, Will, seemed 100% incapable of making any reasonable life choices. It's this man's inability to do anything right that makes him the worst (or best?) possible person to have to deal with the craziness befalls him.
There's no way I'm going to even suggest what transpires in these pages. Just picture me urging you to read this, sliding the book towards you with a wicked grin on my face and an evil twinkle in my eye. My hope for you is that you don't heed my warning to read this in the daylight. I hope you think that you're immune to horror and nothing gets under your skin...
I hope this one rattles your cage pretty good and you sleep with the lights on.
"There's something in the room with me."
Goodnight!

moreadsbooks's review

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4.0

Well HELL! That was the scariest thing I've read in quite a while. So sensible of me to read it at 10:00 last night, too. Bartender Will idly pockets a cell phone while cleaning up after a brawl in his bar. He forgets all about it until it receives a few text messages once he's gone home for the night.

"The messages were from somebody named Garrett: I think something is in here with me. And then, sent two minutes later: I'm scared."

Whoa, Garrett, me too! I got this from ILL after Ballingrud caught my eye with his short story "Skullpocket" on io9 and am I glad that I did? Yes because it's thrillingly well written and scary as all get out, but also no, not at all, because now I have a lot of dark things in my head that kept me from being able to roll over in bed & turn my back to the door last night. While the the denouement was poetically grotesque ("It was a blood-rimmed crater into dark precincts") but not as horrifying as the rest of it, Ballingrud succeeded admirably in terrifying the shit out of me with all of the little details leading up to the
Spoilerdemon or whatever it was coming out of Eric's face for Will to eat - color me very worried about Carrie & Alicia now
. They're not spoilers per se, but I'm going to put them behind a cut because stumbling across one every time I turned the page really added to the mounting sense of "Oh boy, I am making a terrible mistake by continuing with this because I'm not going to be able to close my eyes tonight."
SpoilerThe texts - PLEASE! and then the cluster of broken teeth. The video on the phone. The endless dark wet hole that Carrie kept watching. The text pic of the misshapen guy in their apartment. The Second Translation of Wounds! What even is that? And why does it scare me SO MUCH?
This was 64 pages of flat out freak out for me, and for B as well, because he'd read it a few weeks ago unbeknownst to me and refused to discuss it at all even in the sunlight this morning. Well done, Nathan Ballingrud!

maxstark's review

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2.0

When everyone in the horror community in the Twitterverse were so hyped about this novella I knew I had to get my hands on it. It took me a long time to get this book since the hype started just to finished it and realize I was gonna be the unpopular opinion here.
Every little part that everyone seem to love about the novella I just simply didn’t get them.

Nathan Ballingrud’s writing is not bad. But the synopsis of the book is way much better than the book itself. It was a fantastic idea just gone wrong. Nothing really happens in the story. Ballingrud plays with the reader through all of the story, when you finally arrive to a tension science (which he describes very well I might add) nothing happens. And he repeats this trick several times, “something is lurking in the shadows and coming behind Carrie, it is getting near, and then”, nothing. Cut to, whatever Will is doing somewhere else, or simply Carrie fell asleep, or whatever.
The main character Will, is just simply an idiot making bad choices in life. He’s being played by the 2 women in his life and he’s is so fucking blind, or too horny, to notice it. Carrie, her girlfriend, is cheating on him with her teacher and is a controlling bitch. And Alice just goes to the bar where he works and seduces him even though she has a boyfriend. So Will is not the only miserable human being in the story.
The idea of Will finding a cell phone and then start receiving creepy messages on it, and that it escalate to something truly horrifying was great, that’s why I bought this. But instead I got a romantic soap opera triangle with some kind of body horror at the end and some tension moments that simply just weren’t worth my reading time.
But hey, if you like contemplative and cosmic horror, this might be the right novella for you. Read other reviews, compare, and give this a chance. I know I will give the author another try.