Movie Review: Death Note (2017)

(Ho-wdy, Ho-rror Ho-mies…Apologies for dropping the ball a bit around here for the last little bit. I had some personal matters to attend to, butt now I’m back in action and ready to make the spookening happen. 🙂 First up, a review of something near and dear to my cold, black heart…Death Note. This take on the new NetfliXXX adaptation presented by Mr. Anton Phibes…Thanks for the interesting input, Kinky Kolleague! 🙂 xoxo)

It’s a tired cliche to say that the pen is mightier than the sword, but that old chestnut is given new gravity in Adam Wingard’s Death Note, an American incarnation of the popular Japanese franchise. In the film, a few strokes of a pen etched within a most peculiar notebook are all it takes to kill anyone at anytime. Imbued with the abilities of a literal death god, the titular “Death Note” is the murder weapon to end all murder weapons: elegant, efficient, and damn-near impossible to trace. The notebook’s current owner uses its awesome power to purge the world of those he deems evil, resulting in an epic battle of wits between the wielder of the book and those who seek to stop him.

Since 2003, Death Note has been adapted many times over. Starting with the anime adaptation of the original manga, each interpretation retains the primary characters and certain scenes, but always tells its own version of the tale, with new twists and wrinkles. However, despite the many variations on the same story, it seems most adapters agree that the material is simply too much to tell one outing. The manga spawned 12 volumes, the anime series has 37 episodes, the Japanese live-action films gave its take in two films, and the live-action mini-series had 11 episodes. Regardless of the changes made, Death Note is still a massive story.
And that is where the problems begin. A story as sprawling as Death Note shouldn’t be confined to a little over 90 mins.  The picture feels rushed and overloaded, losing much of the power previous tellings had. What’s worse is that precious screen time is spent on paltry teen drama that exists in no other version. Instead of building up the rivalry between the murderous Light and the detective L that’s so central to the franchise, it places emphasis on a boring girlfriend character who would not be out of place in a Disney Channel movie. Much of the suspense is replaced with teen angst, questions on the nature of justice are tossed out for bland romance,  and the Light depicted here is more of an awkward teenager than a diabolical vigilante. The entire affair has the unfortunate quality of feeling like a man in an iron maiden: cramped and bloodless.

Despite these considerable flaws, I actually did find quite a bit to love here. Adam Wingard’s direction is superbly stylishly, with extraordinary color usage, some fun death scenes, and some truly moody moments. Light’s character is significantly neutered compared to previous takes, but Nate Wolff does an admirable job as this version of the character.  The other performances range from pretty good to downright excellent, with Lakeith Stanfield’s L and Willem Dafoe as the death god Ryuk emerging on top. Speaking of Ryuk, the effects used to bring him to life(?) are simply marvelous, giving him a Satanic grace and a perfectly demonic appearance.

Death Note is likely to disappoint fans of the source material, but may be of interest to those who love teen horror. There are moments that evoke the black magic of the franchise, but it’s best taken as on its own.  Wingard’s film is deeply flawed, but not without flashes of greatness. Perhaps if he makes that rumored sequel, Wingard will deliver a film that lives up to the both his own potential and that of the material. There’s still time to make us see the Light.

  • It was shite. That’s really as much of a review as I could muster up for it.