Are fear and thrill about being human? What do they mean for our souls? Do we expose ourselves in fear, or do we hide ourselves? And is it inhuman to be without fear?
These are some of the questions flowing beneath the surface in Pessl’s “Night Film.” It is a thriller, but it’s one for the nerds like me. If you like a nice turn of phrase, you’ll be just as happy with this one as any thriller fan.
The real genius of the novel lies in its quiet dissection of the thriller and horror genre, of the human drive that underlies it. It’s a meta-story, in a way, a thriller about a death (which the narrator finds thrilling in an obsessive need-to-know way) which leads to a maker of cult horror films whose own life is somehow a horror story.
It touches upon, without really digging into or judging, some of the angels of our darker nature. Our desire to believe in the strange, in the fearful. Our wish to be scared is what the novel is really about, our desire to be frightened and come out on the other side.
In that way, the novel is less about the thrill or the horror than it is about our participation in it. There are no totally innocent bystanders in the story, no one who goes unaffected by it. The world is big, complicated, and interconnecting, and we all want to be scared. We all want to be part of the horror story. We all want to be in our own night films.
Music: PJ Harvey. Just PJ Harvey.