Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Marisha Pessl’s Night Film has been on my radar for a while now. I love reading creepy thrillers during the summer months, so I thought this would be the perfect read. It follows the investigation of the death of a notorious cult horror-director’s daughter, Ashley Cordova. Ashley killed herself after breaking out of a psychiatric clinic, and normally suicides do not interest our protagonist, Scott McGrath – an investigative journalist- but he has a certain history with Ashley’s father. Scott is certain that there is something very sinister at play within Cordova’s family, and since Cordova keeps himself behind a thick veil of mystery and silence, Scott needs to investigate Ashley’s murder, uncover the truth and perhaps expose the darkness he’s certain the director is shrouded in. Scott’s sidekicks are a nineteen year old aspiring actress and a handsome young drug dealer; set in a dreary depiction of New York City, this strange trio are constantly required to delve into darkness to discover what happened to Ashley.
Perhaps the biggest mistake I made when going into this book was to expect a psychological thriller. It’s psychologically challenging, yes, but I don’t think it can really be categorized as a thriller; it’s more a mystery, and perhaps some horror, than anything else. I’m not the biggest fan of mysteries, especially if they are as big as this one is. Pessl constantly changes the direction of the story; is this a good old murder disguised as suicide, or was there something paranormal at play, or was Ashley just a troubled young girl who could not handle the darkness she grew up around? And more than just the investigation, there’s the mystery of Cordova: who is this elusive man? Is he evil, given the uncomfortable, dark content of his productions. Is he cursed, considering people around him drop like flies? Or is he just someone who likes staying out of the spotlight and is struck with misfortune? The premise was fascinating, to say the least, but did the mystery really need 600 pages and several curveballs to resolve? I’m not so sure.
Pessl threw her audience so many curveballs that I found myself doubting everything, which isn’t something I want to do in a mystery. Being a skeptic throughout the novel didn’t blow my mind at the end or surprise me when there was a twist, because I was expecting something to be off. I was expecting something to be turned upside down, and sometimes, simply the expectation takes the fun out of the narrative. As for the investigation itself- as interesting as it was, it was a little unrealistic. Everything seemed to be dropping into our characters’ laps. Considering how elusive Cordova is, how completely hidden and mysterious, our characters had a ridiculously easy time getting to information that should’ve been very hard to obtain. Pessl didn’t give them a hard time, and I enjoy when characters work hard and get beaten down before they get back up and ultimately win.
But while their luck was unrealistic, the characters themselves were not. I really enjoyed how the personalities of our three leads clashed, yet complemented each other too. I liked how each of them brought different things to the table. Nora is an eccentric, sweet young girl who’s been through a lot in life to get to where she is – which is not anywhere great, I may add. But her kindness and her persistence makes her endearing. Hopper is a handsome young dealer who is the typical charming yet brooding dude, but his profession and his moral ambiguity makes him a nuanced character. Scott took some time getting used to, but he grew on me eventually.
Pessl is obviously an accomplished writer; her ability to construct atmosphere and come up with interesting stories while immersing her reader into the narrative with interesting layouts in the form of blog pages, forums, articles and slides is commendable. And perhaps I’ll pick up something else by her- I’m just not sure if I’ll pick up another mystery, especially if it’s as long as this one was.