Marisha Pessl’s Night Film is due to hit bookstores until August, which, as of yesterday, became a pitstop on the book’s journey to the big screen. Chernin Entertainment picked up the film rights and tapped "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" director, Rupert Wyatt, to direct an adaptation of Pessi’s psychological thriller about an investigative journalist exploring the strange circumstances surrounding the suicide of a cult horror film director’s daughter. Night Film marks the latest addition to Pessi’s uniquely erudite take on neo-noir fiction, which combines astute observations of human depravity and Hollywood debauchery – all reminiscent of the godfather of LA’s hard-boiled novelists, who defined the genre back in the 1940’s and ‘50’s both on the page and on film.
The very idea of a modern-day female Raymond Chandler-esque literary mystery novelist is so subversive to the macho aesthetic of LA noir, there’s something subversive – even suspect – about any woman writer who brazenly borrows the tropes of the genre he helped invent. But that hasn’t stopped Pessi – who has the looks and cunning literary sensibility of a classic femme fatale – from forging her own modernized take on the genre. Though critics compared her literary debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, to Donna Tartt and Nabokov, its DNA was pure neo-noir with an elegant murder mystery embedded in the story of an introspective high school student who takes it upon herself to unravel the mystery of the death of a beloved teacher with a dark past straddling the self-regarding worlds of academia and the entertainment industry.
It’s no surprise that Hollywood took an early stake in Pessi’s second novel. The movie business is long overdue for the next wave of neo-noir filmmaking, after Quentin Tarantino led the last revival in the 1990’s. However, at first glance, the filmmaker best known for a reboot of the campy “Planet of the Apes” franchise seems an odd choice for such nuanced, dialogue-driven material. But we’ll reserve judgment until we lay eyes on the book, which does contain a whole B-movie subplot driven by the protagonist’s Roger Corman-esque father.
Hopefully Night Movies’ momentum will propel Special Topics in Calamity Physics out of development purgatory, where it has languished since 2007, when Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the filmmaking team behind “Half Nelson,” signed onto the project. Paging Emma Watson for the lead role.