Night Film by Marisha Pessl

”Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn’t been seen in public since 1971. To his fans he is an enigma. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father.”

Did she jump or was she pushed?

Stanislas Cordova is a mysterious film director with a cult following. Most of his dark, disturbing horror movies were banned from theaters and shown in secret, underground screenings. At the onset of the novel Cordova’s 24-year-old daughter Ashley, a piano prodigy, is found dead in a warehouse in Manhattan due to an apparent suicide. Investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects that is not the case. Last time he investigated Cordova his career was ruined, but this time he will stop at nothing to find out what really happened to Ashley. He finds himself getting some help from Hopper and Nora, whose paths crossed Ashley’s before her death.

Not a typical mystery

At first Night Film seems to be a typical mystery (what happened to Ashley?), but as the novel continues Pessl keeps taking the novel in unexpected directions; it is a story that mixes suspense, horror, mystery, and supernatural elements. We get to follow McGrath, Hopper and Nora as they go from the bondage clubs to mental hospitals to occult supply stores to Cordova’s secluded estate. What they uncover at the property turns everything on its head and McGrath does not know what is real anymore.

Blurring the lines

Sprinkled through the novel are pages with old photos, coffee stained notes, police records, articles, and website screenshots. There is also a Night Film Decoder, which will unlock exclusive multimedia content, and some is available on YouTube. I would normally not be a fan, but in this case it works beautifully as Pessl blurs the lines between different forms of media.

Is it realistic? Not at all. Does it matter? Not at all.

I must say I am surprised that I like this complex and dark novel, but I do, a lot – it is excellent. You get sucked into Cordova’s world and the more twisted it becomes the better it gets. Everything happens for a reason and each character has a purpose, as McGrath follows the clues to learn about Ashley’s multifaceted character. Pessl also ties up all loose ends in an impressive way. The novel is thick, almost 600 pages, but do not let that deter you, because when the novel is over you are left wanting more.


Night Film will be published in the US on August 20 and in the UK on August 29.

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