Night Film by Marisha Pessl

nightfilmOh, boy. Where do I start with this one? Night Film has been getting a lot of buzz for months now. It was poised to be the big book of the fall season. But like so many ‘It’ girls who have fizzled into post-sex tape obscurity, Night Film fails to deliver the goods. True, it is an action packed tale that brings new technologies to the reading experience, but after Marisha Pessl‘s dazzling debut Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Night Film leaves me feeling meh.

Admittedly, I expected much from Night Film. I was enticed by her use of very real looking webpages and other media in the text and curious about the ‘enhanced reading experienced‘ that could be accessed through a mobile phone app. I was also hoping for something even more brilliant than Special Topics. In short, I wanted literary genius and technological savvy all rolled up in one.

Instead I got something that came closer to resembling Dan Brown. Try as I may, I find it hard not to disparage Dan Brown. I just don’t read many thrillers and perhaps that is why I found to Night Film to resemble his work. Night Film is basically about three marginally related characters all searching for answers surrounding the death of a reclusive horror movie director’s daughter. In the early stages of the narrative they follow the path of the investigative journalist – following up on leads and asking questions. Soon things turn to black magic and our trio turn into covert operatives delving into a world in which psychological terror plays as much a part as physical terror.

Who would like this book? After all I have said, you may think that this book is not for you. That likely isn’t true. It is a good thriller as far as thrillers go. I kept turning the pages and waiting to see what would happen next. So if you want a thriller – go for it. If you want a work of literary genius, hold back. The media spectacle surrounding Night Film also makes it an intriguing read. I think this book is supposed to breaking barriers, and perhaps it is. The ‘enhanced reading experience’ provided by the Night Film app was entirely conceived of after the completion of the novel and is not integral to the reading experience in the least. However, it is an interesting add-on that I’m sure we will see employed more and more.

When it comes right down to it, I say read the book if you are interested, but it is more of a ‘borrow’ than a ‘buy’. And as an aside, I don’t think Night Film would work very well as an audio book and I question it’s usefulness as an e-book. Let me know what you think if you have used either of these formats.


  1. One of my book clubs is planning to read this next month, and I’ve been unable to shake the feeling that the rave reviews and techno-savvy marketing were…well, not misguided, but maybe just not on my wavelength. I also share your aversion to Dan Brown, so the mention of similarities might well be the nail in the coffin when it comes to me ever reading this book…

  2. Great review! I read Night Film and did like it, mostly because of the ambiguous ending (I’m a sucker for ambiguity in fiction!) but I can see your points. I read Calamity so long ago I couldn’t compare the two so maybe that’s why this worked better for me than it did for you.

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