Night Film by Marisha Pessl

When the daughter of a reclusive horror film director commits suicide, a disgraced investigative journalist sets out looking for the truth, only to find himself in a labyrinth straight out of one of the director’s “night films.”

The biggest hook in Night Film is Stanislas Cordova, a character who is a delectable melange of Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski, Michael Haneke, and Eli Roth. Descriptions of his oeuvre pepper the novel, with tantalizing plot details that made me ache to see the movies. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see a horror thriller from 1979 called Thumbscrew? And with my MA in Cinema Studies, I loved that a film history professor was a key character. I wrote a paper in grad school on Kubrick and I really wish I could also have written about Cordova.

Scott Cordova was once a promising investigative journalist, but his career fell apart when he attempted an expose of Cordova and his infamous underground “night film,” movies that push the boundaries of human experience through exploring the darkest sides of human nature. When he learns that Cordova’s troubled daughter Ashley, a child prodigy on the piano, has committed suicide, he finds himself unable to resist the siren call of the truth about a man known for driving others mad.

Pessl’s storytelling is mostly superb. I found her plotting and structure to be ingenious and masterful. The story had tremendous suspense, thrills, horror, emotion, and sublime payoffs. I did find that some of the recreations of magazine and newspaper articles could have used more polish. In some cases her need to provide exposition surpassed her ability to render journalistic prose. And there were a few very minor details about filmmaking that she didn’t quite get right, though nothing that affected the trajectory of the story.

I am not sure if I am completely satisfied by the ending, but I think it will hold up on a reread. I honestly can’t think of any other way she could have resolved the story, in terms of plot, but I just haven’t decided yet if I think the story has deep meaning or is just superficially enthralling. I definitely know I’ll be rereading this book again, probably sooner rather than later.

Ultimately, I feel like I felt when I finished watching Donnie Darko, and that’s pretty high praise.

And of note–the e-book contains some easter eggs that work with a smartphone app. I haven’t checked them out yet because I think I need to sit with the book for a bit longer.

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