This is what happens when filmmakers are more fascinated by imagery and concept but don't know how to couch them in a story.
Armie Hammer is Will, a bartender in a New Orleans bar who witnesses a fight break out one night while some college kids are in the bar (seemingly unrelated). The kids leave behind one of their phones, which contains disturbing images. All the while, his girlfriend Carrie, played by Dakota Johnson, seems to be studying occult Gnosticism, which seems to be related to what the college kids are involved in.
If you're looking for any kind of payoff in this film, you're going to be sorely disappointed. Literally, this film has no payoff. It’s more just a bunch of stuff that happens and then, BAM!, end credits. There are times that it seems like it’s going somewhere. In fact, it felt like there should have been much more interrelated stuff between different parts of the movie, such as Claire’s professor, Steve, being more developed. In fact, I definitely get the impression that this was supposed to be the case, but that it either ended up on the cutting room floor or remained concept-only. It’s possible that this happens in “The Visible Filth,” the short novel on which this movie is based, but since I haven’t read it I can’t comment on it.
The film we get is not a good film, either. The acting alternates between melodramatic and completely emotionless with no inbetween. Seriously, Brad William Henke is so over-the-top, he makes Jeremy Irons look like he was on Xanax during the “Dungeons & Dragons” movie. Dakota Johnson just sleepwalks through her entire role. Armie Hammer feels like he tries a little too hard to be the everyman. The only actor that seemed believable with genuine subtlety in their role is Zazie Beetz, but her character is pretty much superfluous to the proceedings. Her character could have been cut with little to no change to the plot.
What’s so terrible about this film, though, is the sheer frustration factor. It’s a great idea. I would have loved to see more and have the movie cleaned up to be more cohesive and have an actual payoff. But we’re denied all of this. I love the concept of basing a film around occult Gnosticism. However, it’s set in such a poor movie that by the end, I found myself wringing my hands less out of fear or feelings of bugs crawling on you (which you might get) and more out of frustration for failure to realize its potential and seeing very easily how it could have been saved. When you’re doing the filmmakers work for them, they’ve got a problem.