On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.
For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.
Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.
The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.
Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page.
I feel like I’ve just had my brain matter sucked from my skull through a straw, whipped vigorously by a whisk, baked into a quiche, and then returned to my head. Like six times.
That’s Night Film in a nutshell. It’s an engrossing read that is less of a book and more of an experience. Marisha Pessl is one of those rare authors who brings life not only to a story but to a world. Her world in Night Film is similar to our own, plus a single distortion: Stanislas Cordova, the enigmatic and acclaimed director of cult psychological thrillers. She makes Cordova, his films, his fans, and his family seem so real, like if you checked Wikipedia to see who won the 1980 Academy Award for Best Director, you would actually see Cordova’s name instead of Robert Benton’s for Kramer vs. Kramer. Mostly she accomplishes this with her impressive use of visual media. The book features TIME articles about his work and Vanity Fair investigations into his daughter Ashley’s suicide, the event that kickstarts the entire book.
So you start the reading by living, by living in this fabricated world. It’s all very fascinating but it remains a rather traditional—if wonderfully immersive—mystery until, midway through, the tipping point is reached and everything goes crazy. Once the story tips, it’s almost suffocating to be living in this incredible but dangerous world.
It is a story that makes you doubt your grip on reality. You will—or at least you should–question everything as you read. For example, one gripe about Pessl’s otherwise effusive prose is her tendency to italicize several words in a single paragraph. It’s ostensibly for emphasis, but at a certain point, I was tracking which words were italicized in the belief that they encoded some important secret. My excuse for this paranoid reading is the overwhelming sense that in Night Film every word is meaningful, that nothing is wasted.
Night Film is about fathers and movies and magic. It not only asks, What is Truth? but also, Is there such a thing as a Truth?
In his famous 1977 Rolling Stone interview, Cordova says:
Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our being and shows us what we are. Will you step back and cover your eyes? Or will you have the strength to walk to the precipice and look out? Do you want to know what is there or live in the dark delusion that this commercial world insists we remain sealed inside like blind caterpillars in an eternal cocoon? Will you curl up with your eyes closed and die? Or can you fight your way out of it and fly?
Recommended for the fighters and the fliers.