Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

August 12, 2013 Marisha Pessl, Mystery, Suicide, Thriller 13 ★★★★

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Published by Random House on August 20, 2013
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 624
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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 is being marketed as the next Gone Girl, and I worry that may turn off readers.  Whether you enjoyed Gone Girl or not (I did), the comparison is tiresome.  Aside from the fact that both books feature a mystery, there are no similarities in the stories, and Night Film can stand on its own merits.

Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a mysterious and reclusive film director, is found dead in an apparent suicide.  Her death immediately captures the attention of Scott McGrath, a journalist and the narrator of Night Film.  Ashley’s father, Stanislas, is more legend than man.  During his career, he was rarely photographed, and even on his film sets, he was rarely seen.  Everyone employed by him signs strict non-disclosure agreements, further ensuring his privacy.  Some people believe that Stanislas the man doesn’t actually exist; perhaps he’s actually a woman, or maybe there are multiple people posing as Stanislas.  The only thing known for certain is that he has a cult-like following who obsess over his dark films and the illusion of Stnislas.

Scott’s career was destroyed when he was tried for slandering Stanislas Cordova by comparing him to cult leaders, calling him a predator, and suggesting he be “terminated.” Nevertheless, McGrath, seeking redemption and vindication, can’t stop himself from diving into the investigation of Ashley’s death.  Two oddball-ish characters soon join Scott: Nora, a nineteen-year-old coat-check girl, and Hopper, a young drug dealer.  Both Nora and Hopper have their own reasons for wanting to learn if Ashley’s death was really a suicide.  The secondary characters in Night Film, Nora and Hopper, in particular, are one of the book’s many strengths.  There are MANY characters we need to keep up with, and with the exception of Scott’s ex-wife, whose primary function is to be annoying, and his young daughter, whose primary function is to be adorable, they are all fascinating and unique.

Ashley is described by many people as exceptionally beautiful, talented, and intelligent.  The more we learn about her, the darker her life seems, and potentially dangerous mysteries are revealed.  It’s a testament to Marisha Pessl’s writing that even when Scott’s investigation took some absolutely incredible turns, I was drawn right in.  What initially appeared to be a straight-up death investigation is slowly, possibly revealed as something much darker.

It’s worth noting, especially to people who are slow readers like me, that Night Film is over 600 pages.  Fortunately, the story moved along at a good pace for most of its length.  There were some draggy moments near the end, but the ending was so satisfying, it made up for it.  Back to that silly Gone Girl comparison – if you’ve read it, you know it ends on a ?!?!?! note.  Night Film, on the other hand, has quieter “wow” moments, but I don’t think the intention was to shock readers.

Also within the 600 pages are 50 pages or so of made-to-look-read online articles, photos, secret websites and forums, transcripts, etc.  These help to give a sense of authenticity to the story, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people get confused: “Wait – I thought this was fiction!”  I’ve included a couple of examples from the book below.

Scott’s not one of those genius investigators commonly seen on TV; a lot of his breakthroughs are pure luck or owed to witnesses who are mostly (and perhaps, unrealistically) always ready to talk.  I was firmly on Scott’s side.  I wanted him to get his redemption.  And just as much as the characters in the novel, I wanted the mystery of Stanislas Cordova’s identity revealed.  Mystery lovers should enjoy spending some time with the original, and sometimes frightening, story in Night Film.

Review posted at Goodreads.


13 Responses to “Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl”

  1. Briana

    I read this one last month and really enjoyed it. I think the Gone Girl comparison is more due to the success and sales it’s expected to have, than any similarities between the two, because like you said, there really aren’t any. They’re really pushing for it to be this year’s ‘IT’ Book.

    Anyway, great review! I felt the same as you about mostly everything, but haven’t even begun to work on my own review for it; it’s a little intimidating, tbh haha. I’m really looking forward to seeing how well it’ll do upon it’s release… we’ll see if all this hype does its job!

    • Stephanie K

      I know what you mean – I had a heard time writing the review, because some of the things I wanted to mention (I’m sure you know!) were too spoiler-y.

  2. thatartsygirlsbookblog

    I have Pessl’s first book “Special Topics on Calamity Physics” but I didn’t finish it. But I remember the author’s writing to be beautiful. Even though I didn’t like her first book, I’m willing to give this one a try. 🙂

  3. Jess LiteraryEtc

    The comparison to Gone Girl is because Night Film is going to be this summer’s IT book. Both leave you with a WTF feeling at the end, but both are very different.

    You know, Pessl created all those multimedia inserts herself. Her mother said if she was going to write a book about films that maybe she should create that world first. All the multimedia she used are also from other works in progress she pulled from. I can’t wait to go through the book again and see what other hidden easter eggs she inserted. She does use a lot of Hollywood history (the feuding sisters mirrors the De Havilland’s sister feud).

    I do recommend people get a physical copy of the book because they’ll want to spend time going back to pages, etc. Borrow a copy or buy one.

    • Stephanie K

      I didn’t know that Pessl created all of those images – that’s fascinating.

      I agree with you about getting a physical copy. Even though I read it on my Kindle, I was lucky enough to win a physical ARC, and the images are just lovely.

    • Stephanie K

      I read the book on my Kindle, and the photos above were actually taken from my iPhone Kindle app, to give you an indication. They looked great on both.

  4. Kristen Williams

    Ah, this is intriguing. Honestly, the sheer size intimidates me because of the lack of time but I think the idea is absolutely wonderful and I think if I ever sit down and read this I’ll really enjoy it. Great review Steph! I love that you included some of the pics from the book.

    My Friends Are Fiction

Leave a Reply to Jess LiteraryEtc Cancel reply

CommentLuv badge