Book Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl
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.
On a damp October night the young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty.
For McGrath, another death connected the legendary director seems more than coincidence. Driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid.
The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lose his grip on reality.
At 624 pages, Night Film is a hefty book. I’m typically easily bored, but I will say that, for the most part, this story kept me riveted. There were a few parts throughout that dragged a bit and I worried that the story was going downhill, but then it’d pick right back up and I’ve be transfixed all over again. There were many moments of telling, but I felt that the information was interesting enough to offset the feeling of being info-dumped.
This is a very, very detailed book. I have to hand it to the author, because she left no stone unturned. It’s obvious that she meticulously put this together, rather than the haphazard slapping down of tripe that passes for writing nowadays. Not always, I know, but often enough. Do I sound bitter? I am. I’ve read some serious crap this last year. I digress.
Interspersed throughout you’ll find very detailed articles, interviews, pictures, web pages, etc. I read the ebook version and while the visuals were nice and all, I imagine that the paper book would be quite aesthetically pleasing.
The visuals all pertain to the enigma that is Cordova, a cult-horror-film director. We know little of him to begin with, but it was fascinating to follow the MC as he pieced together the mystery of the man and the mystery surrounding the death of the man’s daughter. Speaking of the MC, he’s a really funny dude. His humor was right up my alley and I found myself laughing out loud, which was nice in such a dark story. And it’s a very dark story. There were some creepy parts that gave me the heebie-jeebies. Just when you think you have something figured out, you begin to question everything you thought you knew. There was no way to anticipate what would happen next. At least, not until the end.
By about 80%, I figured I knew how it would end and I was mostly right. Obvious things were obvious by then and I wasn’t floored by anything that happened. Despite this, it could have been a fantastic and chilling ending me thinks, but in my humble opinion, Pessl dropped the ball at the last moment.
I don’t like the way things weren’t really resolved and frankly, I feel cheated. I feel like I put in enough time to have gotten a more satisfying ending. It could have been mind-blowing. It could have been creepy. It could have been scary. Instead, it was abrupt. For some books, that works. For this highly-detailed book that inched its way to a climax that seemingly never happened, it didn’t.
The MC also makes a really weird and out-of-character decision near the end that really threw me off. I kinda see where Pessl was going with it, but it was unexpected where it was placed within the story. In addition, I wasn’t enamored of the side characters. They didn’t jump off the page and actually, they both annoyed me throughout. Lastly, I didn’t buy the way their relationship with the MC culminated. It was forced and didn’t feel genuine. I was told how it was, but I wasn’t made to believe it.
The disappointing ending coupled with lackluster side characters and weird behavior from the MC at the end really detracted from my overall enjoyment of the book – enough to knock 1.5 stars off. The fact that there was so much wasted potential in that ending is the most disappointing, though, especially after careful rumination. Barring that ending, this would have been a 4-star read for me.
Despite these gripes, I really did enjoy reading Night Film. I know it may not seem that way, but I mean it. I think that for some, it may be a bit longwinded, but there’s enough intrigue and dark mystery here to highly satisfy many, as evidenced by quite a few glowing reviews already out there.
For me, it was slightly overambitious, but Pessl’s notable attention to detail and ability to keep one engrossed cannot be dismissed. They made this a memorable read. I just wish it had ended with a bang instead of an incongruous fizzle.