Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

A sampling of posters for character Stanislas Cordova’s fictional cult-horror movies from the Marisha Pessl novel Night Film.

Flyer staff graphic / Poster art by Kennedy Monk

Night Film
by Marisha Pessl

Random House Books, 587 pages
» Buy it locally at Nightbird Books

Stanislas Cordova is the reclusive cult-horror filmmaker behind such films as Figures Bathed In Light, Thumbscrew, Wait For Me Here, and The Legacy. Cordova’s disturbing and controversial films (between 1964 and 1996) have inspired rabid fandom, his fans refer to themselves as Cordovites and communicate on an invite-only web-group called The Blackboards. They screen Cordova’s films at under-the-radar gatherings called “Night Films”, and obsess over every detail of the director’s work. Cordova’s tumultuous family legacy, strange production methods, and secretive life have led to wild speculation. The director has not been seen in over 30 years. With tragedy befalling many of Cordova’s actors, crew, and inner circle, his films are said to be cursed.

Cordova’s daughter Ashley was a gifted piano prodigy with endless possibility before she was found dead in an isolated warehouse. The circumstances surrounding Ashley’s apparent suicide are as foggy and illusive as her notorious father. Investigative journalist Scott McGrath has reasons to believe Cordova is connected to Ashley’s death, and wants to get past the myths of Cordova and question the man himself. But how do you find what stays hidden?

Marisha Pessl’s Night Film is instantly chilling, and is the best skewed ghost story you will read this year. It’s a passport into the world of horror films, cult fandom, and the burdens of the unknown. Pessl graces Night Film with a detailed look into Cordova’s films, and the lives of its flawed and determined characters. Pessl is the rare breed of novelist who can keep you glued to her words on the page, and haunt you with what she leaves off the page. Her characters are searching for the truth, or hiding because of it.

I can highly recommend Night Film for fans of literary thrillers and horror films. Pessl’s filmography of Cordova borrows playfully from the filmmakers Ruggero Deodato and Stanley Kubrick. Learning about Cordova’s invented works is just as compelling as the details of Ashley’s short life and McGrath’s quest to find Cordova. Night Film is also packed with interactive clues that enhance the story and add layers to the book. Easily one of my favorites so far this year.

Trailer: Night Film