Morality Questioning Has Never Been As Fun As Death Note
Every incarnation of Death Note dives into themes of good vs. evil, but Adam Wingard’s Netflix Original Film is truly unique. From the first manga to the iconic anime, the story follows a young boy named Light stumbling upon a book that allows him to kill. This movie version is that same plot but told through an 80’s teen horror filter. If 1988’s Heathers had demons, you’d get 2017’s Death Note.
In this re-imagining of the Japanese source material, director Adam Wingard tells the story of Light Turner (Nat Wolff), a young high school student who finds a mysterious book called a Death Note. Along with the book comes a strange set of rules and a Death God named Ryuk (Willem Dafoe). If you place a name in the book, that person will die. Light quickly sets out to begin his dark journey. Joining Light is fellow high school oddity Mia (Margaret Qualley), an apparent psycho Bonnie to his pretentious Clyde. They start a murderous spree in an attempt to rid the world of evil, and it soon leads to them gaining a cult-like following. Many welcome this “God” they named Kira that kills some of the Most Wanted terrorists, but there is one man that doesn’t appreciate it. That man is L (Lakeith Stanfield), a quirky but genius investigator.
“Rule 1. The human whose name is written in this note shall die… Rule 2. This note will not take effect unless the writers have the person’s face in their mind when writing his or her name.”
Adam Wingard’s Death Note standouts not only for the director’s stylistic choices but his overall craftsmanship. If the script falters or budget limitations feel apparent, Wingard pushes the cast and crew through it. Shout out to cinematographer David Tattersall and editor Louis Cioffi. Their work excels. In particular, the scene where L chases Light through the city showcases fabulous choreography with smooth camera work and a great editing style. The editing is stunning throughout but stands out in this chase scene.
In front of the camera, the talent pulls their weight as well. Nat Wolff can go from the campier moments to the darker moments quickly. The character of Light is different from his anime counterpart. In that Light is very clean-cut and put together, no matter how dark things are on the inside. This Light is still book-smart but is more of an outsider. Personally, it explains his quick leap to the dark side better when he’s this rebel than a preppy Straight-A student. Nat Wolff’s performance and Light’s character do rely on perfect supporting roles. Margaret Qualley’s Mia Sutton plays a sidekick role until things get messy. Who’s causing that mess? Willem Dafoe’s Ryuk! Dafoe turns in one of his best performances in a long time. Ryuk is just as much of a troublemaker as Light is, but he plays a much smarter game.
Lakeith Stanfield chews up every scene. The character of L is interesting since he’s eccentric, but add someone like Stanfield, and the role transforms. After seeing him in work like FX’s Atlanta and another horror film Get Out, I thought I saw all of his range. That was until this incredible turn as L. Fans of the character will enjoy seeing his quirks, but might struggle with seeing him go so dark.
“You’re the one who flew into the sun; I’m just here to make sure you burn!”
-L [to Light]
Many fans of the Death Note source material will be disappointed to see this is not a direct adaption, but as someone who enjoys the anime: it’s equally as good. There is no replacing what any of the work before Adam Wingard’s version did and this never tries. To say the movie takes liberties is being easy. Other than a few ideas and the names, there is almost nothing similar. That’s okay as it works entirely as on its own. Instead of focusing on a purely bleak narrative, this rendition balances a camp sensibility with its nihilism. Don’t worry, nothing is cheerful and the lines between “good guy”/”bad guy” blur. That’s where comparisons to cult films like Heathers and Drop Dead Fred come into play. You can tell a dark story with a smile on your face; sometimes that’s even scarier!
This movie also creates its iconic moments. From some very gory deaths to beautiful camera shots, some scenes blow you away. There is a rewatch quality to this Death Note because of things like its practical effects and innovate style.
The world of Death Note is excellent and can translate to so many different visions; Netflix can easily turn this into the first of many from this one project. Keep Adam Wingard on board as well; his style of filmmaking is what Netflix needs.
One of the only complaints is this movie needs fleshing out. Everything escalates so quickly, and you don’t get time to catch your breath. Going in this film seeing a similar story at a slower pace makes this look weaker in comparison. Not very often does a critic say a movie could use another 20 minutes, but this could’ve.
I rate this film a 3.5 out of 5. Highly recommend this!
Death Note premieres as a Netflix Original Film on August 25th. Adam Wingard is the director, with Charley Parlapanides & Vlas Parlapanides and Jeremy Slater as writers.
The film stars Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley, Lakeith Stanfield, Shea Whigham, Paul Nakauchi, with Willem Dafoe.
Will you watch this? Let me know in the comments below!