The protagonist of Night Film is Scott McGrath. He had been a high-flying, arrogant journalist who wrote a few best-selling books. His life is now in shambles. Five years prior to the beginning of the narrative, McGrath attempted to investigate the mysterious filmmaker Cordova. The investigation destroyed McGrath's journalist's career and marriage.
Cordova's daughter Ashley is found dead of an apparent suicide. Our journalist, rather like a film noir detective, is drawn back to the Kordova family against his better judgement. He follows a long trail of clues with the help of a couple of misfits. The path leads the trio to strange places and people in New York City and New York state.
Is the Cordova family involved in dark doings, or is the answer more banal? Where is the line between reality and delusion, or reality and another world? Pessl has constructed a legendary filmmaker with a stable of films and repeating motifs, with such a level of detail that she could have written about a real filmmaker like Kubrick. The protagonist falls into the world of Cordova, and may not be able to free himself.
The horror element in this book is not particularly graphic. The unclear nature of the Cordova family and their activities leaves many things open to interpretation. Much of the "bad stuff", which may not even be real, takes place off-stage and at a distance of time. There is a Gothic touch with the Peak, Kordova's infamous mansion.
An interesting device in the novel is the use of pages that punctuate the text: web sites, police files, notes. These interspersed pages enhance the experience of the reader, who sees the case unfold with McGrath.
Highly recommended if you can tolerate ambiguity and a protagonist who can't escape his arrogance. There were aspects of this novel that reminded me of Rosemary's Baby and Foucault's Pendulum. If you liked both of those, you would probably like Night Film.