Watching horror films comes with one comfort: the knowledge that what we see before us isn't real. The characters are not really dying painful, bloody deaths, and there is no masked figure stalking our neighborhoods. In Night Film, however, that reassurance rings hollow—the titular scary movies may be representative of an even darker reality.
Investigative journalist Scott McGrath has an unhealthy fixation on notorious horror film director Stanislas Cordova. He's convinced that Cordova's life imitates his art. He's tried to expose Cordova before, after a cryptic phone call from an anonymous source, but his source disappeared along with McGrath's credibility and career. Now, McGrath is pulled into Cordova's vortex all over again when Cordova's daughter Ashley is found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft, an apparent suicide. McGrath suspects something darker was at work the night Ashley died, and he believes Cordova is behind it.
McGrath's investigation of Cordova, obsessive though it may be, is fascinating. With realistic-looking newspaper clippings and screenshots of Internet articles woven into the narrative, we become absorbed in the mystery right along with McGrath. Cordova is strange, secretive to the point of being invisible. His family lives on a massive secluded estate in upstate New York, surrounded by a twenty-foot-tall military fence. All the filming for his movies takes place on the estate, and none of the actors who have worked with him want to talk about the experience. Who exactly is Cordova? What happens on his film sets? What kind of father was he to Ashley? And what really happened in the days leading up to her death?
Like Cordova, Pessl knows that what scares us most is what we can't see. So she hides the answers to all McGrath's questions, revealing them with excruciating deliberation. Then, when everything is explained, each detail neatly accounted for, she turns it all on its head, teaching us we shouldn't trust answers too freely given or too tidily wrapped.
I read this book compulsively. I wanted to keep unspooling the mystery, to discover who Cordova was and what dastardly business was going on at his fortress in the woods. I would have continued well into the wee hours, but frankly, the thought of reading this book in a dark room all alone sent me scurrying off to bed.
Bottom line: Be sure to start this book with plenty of daylight left.