Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) decided to tackle the 2017 film adaptation of the coveted and terror-filled anime, Death Note, which premiered yesterday exclusively on Netflix. Whether or not you’re a fan of said anime, it’s hard to imagine any average horror fan or thriller junkie not enjoying this adaptation.
Loner student Light Turner (Nat Wolf) fills his time and wallet by doing other student’s homework until he comes into possession of a mysterious book, which is titled Death Note. Within it are pages upon pages of rules, the first being “The human whose name is written in this note shall die” and names of people. Feeling intrigued but not the slightest convinced, Light only believes in its power after meeting Ryuk (Willem Dafoe), a death god, and seeing immediate results of writing within the book. From then on, he gets the revenge he yearns for, gets the equally intrigued girl of his dreams (Margaret Qualley), and becomes an anonymous savior and criminal to thousands. His seemingly good intentions lead him to a world of disaster and treachery and the elusive L (Lakeith Stanfield), who is set to expose him, close on his heels.
For the most part, most of the characters were enjoyable to watch. Wolf looked the part of any typical outsider type guy in high school, Vans and all. His emotions were honest; his screaming was realistic as hell. How often do you actually hear men in horror movies scream? They yell, hoot, and holler but scream? While his screeches made you chuckle, it was also a good choice to keep them in there. He played a moody kid in a moody, dark movie; think Donnie Darko and Dexter. Another character that shined through was L. His quirks and movements were fun to pick up and look out for. Ryuek, that big CGI bastard, looked great. He was creepy, baulking, and Dafoe’s voice is recognizable anywhere.
The first half hour or so really paid homage to the horror genre; you get to witness glorious, gratuitous death scenes that put a lot of blatant genre films to shame. Wingard didn’t cheap out in the gore department- these effects were delicious, even if they were served in small portions. In that same vein, Ryuk played coy for a while, only hiding in the shadows or slightly out of focus, creeping behind doors or appearing on screen as soon as a shoulder was turned. That really upped the eeriness and set the mood.
Now the soundtrack is something that can’t be ignored; it was fucking awesome. Atticus and Leopold Ross had the honors of compiling the perfect tunes and scoring every scene. Their choices really reflected the black comedy flavor of the movie and made it almost off collar but still feasible and appropriate for the universe the characters were living (and dying) in.
Now, it goes without saying that there’s going to be insane amounts of backlash and criticism for adaptations, which is all fair game for you diehards. This review is coming from someone who has never watched the anime or read the manga and I could tell that the film had a lot of pacing issues. There was too much crammed into an 1:40 run time, way too much. The timeline leapt and jumped months and months and left very little time to really sit with the characters. I can’t attest for what was left out or what was included, but I’m sure there were pivotal scenes and certain characteristics that just didn’t make the cut.
Touching upon Ryuk and his appearance again; he looked great but we saw too much of him. I’m a firm believer in the “less is more” theory when it comes to showing monsters. The more we saw his face, the less we were frightened or made jittery by him. Then again, the cast and crew probably had a blast doing this, so they gave Dafoe more and more screen time for the hell of it.
Looking at Death Note as a singular film adaptation, it was successful in presenting an entertaining story of complicated moral issues in a semi-fantastical world. It really did make you sit back and reflect on what you would do if you became the owner of the Death Note and it was near heart breaking to watch this kid try and do good with it, only to fuddle his world up even more. His “relationship” with his girlfriend was formed because of the book and their idea of bonding was killing people together with the book. It was a well-rounded movie; you get some laughs, some scares, some thrills, and some things to take away with you after the credits flash and the next Netflix TV series preview starts autoplaying while you fumble for your controller.