Death Note

Death Note is a good movie, but it would’ve made a great miniseries.  Netflix’s fast-track adaptation of Tsugumi Ôba’s popular manga series is light on characterization, with a troublesome lack of introduction by screenwriters Jeremy Slater (The Lazarus Effect), Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides (the Parlapanides’ wrote Immortals).

The audience is immediately launched into the loner life of Light Turner (Nat Wolff), a bullied high schooler who fits in by enabling cheating students with test answers.  Out of the blue, he’s given the Death Note, an ominous book that allows the possessor to kill anyone of their choice by writing a victim’s name and a cause of death.  The gruesome kills are organized as fatal freak accidents;  think deleted scenes from the Final Destination franchise.

Filmmaker Adam Wingard stylizes Death Note effectively.  His past work (You’re Next, The Guest, Blair Witch) could be compared to magic tricks – he’s showing his audience one thing while practicing his sleight of hand to be more cunning underneath the surface.  Death Note is his most straightforward flick yet in terms of genre and tone, but he manages to be inventive through visuals.  A demonic guardian named Ryuk (motion captured and voiced by Willem Dafoe) is perfectly concealed, showing just enough to give the audience an impression of the character and using the right amount of CGI to generate authentic expressions.

Unfortunately, other details are compressed because of how much content the movie needs to cover.  For instance, Light’s anti-hero status is glossed over when his godlike power starts to overcome his initial intentions, and the dynamic between him and a masked, obsessive detective named L (Get Out’s Lakeith Stanfield) doesn’t go beyond a typical cat-and-mouse chase.

A debate over whether the film is faithful to the source material is bound to break out.  However, as someone who never read the manga and had no expectations other than knowing the director, Death Note was striking enough to satisfy me.


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