Well. Where to start with this book? Night Film is more than just a novel. It’s a full-blown Cordova experience, a story which sucks you in and meddles with your mind; a book which is supported by snippets of audio, video and an intriguingly menacing website
Night Film is intimidatingly large at over 600 pages, but don’t let that put you off. Firstly, because it is well worth the read and, secondly, because it’s not as long as it seems. The book is peppered with realistic-looking newspaper articles, website pages and images which serve to support the story and bring it to life.
The novel begins with a thoroughly creepy and disconcerting prologue – what has to be one of the best prologues I have read in a long time. We meet Scott McGrath as he goes on a night-time run and finds himself haunted by a mysterious woman in red. Pessl builds the suspense beautifully, transforming the quite mundane image of a woman wearing a red coat into something altogether more sinister.
As the story progresses, we learn more about Scott, a disgraced, divorced journalist who lost both his job and his family in one fell swoop a few years previously when he got involved in the controversial case of Cordova.
Although the story revolves around Scott, Stanislas Cordova is where the heart of the tale really lies. An evasive enigma, seen as a legendary genius by some and a devil by others, Cordova is the director of a series of disturbing horror films. His films were deemed to be so horrific that they were banned from commercial cinema, resulting in secret Cordova clubs and underground viewings sprouting up all over the world. Whilst his illegal films are difficult to get hold of, the man behind them is even more elusive, as he keeps himself away from the public eye at all times, resulting in a plethora of rumours about who he really is.
When we meet Scott he has put his brush with Cordova behind him, until he learns that the director’s beautiful and talented daughter has fallen to her untimely death at just 24. Scott can’t resist delving deeper into the mysterious family to get to the bottom of what really happened.
He sets off to get to the bottom of things, and is joined along the way by two young sidekicks; Hopper and Nora. Both are keen to dive headfirst into the case, although it is not clear why they are so interested in Ashley’s fate.
The three embark on their adventure, running around the city talking to various witnesses about the life and times of Stanislas Cordova and his daughter, Ashley. Their adventure takes them to a number of intriguing locations, as they enter a dark world involving secret cults, mental asylums, black magic and underground sex clubs. As their investigation reaches a head they arrive at the most mysterious location of all; The Peak. This is the sprawling mansion and gardens in which Cordova supposedly lives and works; a wonderfully eerie and gothic place which is shrouded in mystery where nothing is as it seems. During their visit to The Peak, Scott endures a thoroughly nightmarish, surreal episode which leaves both the narrator and the reader unsure what is real and what is not.
In Night Film, Pessl draws inspiration from many places, from the dark, unnerving films of the likes of Kubrick and Lynch to the writing style of Stephen King. Some people find the result a little cliche and over-the-top, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Night film offers an exciting blend of horror and psychological thriller with some nightmarish, trippy episodes thrown in. It had me on tenterhooks and it’s sure to have you looking over your shoulder when reading it at night.