Marisha Pessl’s Night Film is the first foray into the creepy, curious world of murder, dark magic and mystery I’ve allowed myself in years. I steer clear of scary movies and TV shows, but unsettling books hold a special sort of terror for me: The kind that encourages my imagination to bloom in all its horrible glory. In truth, I’m not sure why I picked up Night Film, but I’m glad I did.
The story begins with the death of Ashley Cordova, the beautiful and terrifying daughter of the infamous director Stanislas Cordova. When authorities discover her body at the bottom of an abandoned elevator shaft, they rule the incident a suicide and most observers seem to agree. The same isn’t true for journalist Scott McGrath, a veteran reporter who blew his reputation during a Cordova investigation some years earlier.
His curiosity and skepticism refueled by Ashley’s demise, Scott embarks on a quest to find out what — or who — really killed her. Through a strange turn of events, he teams up with a teenage girl named Nora, one of the last people to interact with Ashley while she was alive, and a young man, Hopper, whose connection to the dead girl goes much deeper than he initially admits.
As the trio digs into Ashley’s last days, they must uncover the truth about the notoriously private and awful Cordova, whose films are so terrifying they can only be viewed underground or procured illegally. A string of findings from reluctant individuals tied to the family and items found while following in Ashley’s final footsteps, reveal a truth so disturbing it is unbelievable — except that it is also almost undeniable.
Just when it seems the truth Scott seeks is settled, an elusive meeting takes place, throwing his conclusions into a tailspin. This sort of twist is par for the Night Film course, which seems designed to fool not only the characters but the reader as well. It’s a challenging road, slow and full of dead ends sometimes, dangerous as a curvy mountain highway at others. This book requires commitment, an investment in differentiating between valuable details and red herrings. And there are a lot of red herrings.
Was this a book I could read at night? Not really. But could I put it down in daylight? Rarely.
The numerous theories and conspiracies whirling through the pages of Night Film vary in nature as much as in plausibility but they all share one thing: the ability to make your blood run cold. From black magic to murder to a deadly curse to intimidation, there is no counting how many stories, how many whisperings worked into the pages will set you on edge. But despite all that, Pessl manages a mystery that threatens to overdo it with balance and care such that the result is simply energizing. Therefore, I present you coffee ice pops — a treat that will pump you up and give you the chills.
- 1 cup extra-strong coffee
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- sugar, to taste
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/8 cup confectioner's sugar
- Mix coffee, milk and sugar, if desired. Fill 10 2-inch foil baking cups 1/3 of the way, then place in freezer for 90 minutes.
- Remove foil cups and divide heavy cream mixture among cups evenly. Return to freezer for 90 minutes.
- Remove foil cups again and poke wooden skewers into the now-solid pops. Top with remaining coffee and return to freezer for at least 90 minutes, or until solid all the way through.
- When solid, eat pops on their own as a refreshing treat, dissolve into warm milk, or use as ice cubes in your favorite coffee drink.