“Death Note” stars Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley, Keith Stanfield, Paul Nakauchi, Shea Whigham, and Willem Dafoe. Released on Netflix on August 25, 2017, the film is about a teenager who discovers a notebook that grants him the power to kill.
The film is directed by Adam Wingard, who also directed films such as You’re Next, The Guest, and Blair Witch. It is based on the manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. There have been various attempts at adapting a manga into a live-action movie for American audiences and, based on their track record, they all have sunk down to the bottom of the barrel, with the critically-panned Dragonball Evolution being the prime example. Now it looks like Hollywood is trying this again by making a live-action Death Note film for Netflix. While I’m not a huge follower of the source material myself, I was familiar with Wingard’s other works as well as a couple of actors that are in the film, such as Nat Wolff and Willem Dafoe, so there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be bothered with this. Now, clearly, there were a few live-action Death Note films that were released in Japan more than ten years ago before this film, but this is actually the first “Americanized” live-action Death Note movie that we’re getting. The question is, does it do the source material justice? Since I have no history with Death Note, I will be reviewing it as its own film.
If you’re familiar with the concept of Death Note, then you should have no problem following the film’s story. However, if you’re hoping for a great adaptation of the source material, I would say either go into it with extreme caution or search for something else to watch. Based on what I saw, as a newcomer, it had a really interesting premise about the consequences of playing God, especially when you’re trying to use some sort of supernatural power for good. There were some parts in the story that somehow managed to work for me, but the rest didn’t leave as much as an impact as the film’s gruesome, Final Destination-like deaths. On the plus side, Wingard did manage to keep my interest due to his chilling direction. It doesn’t do a whole lot to cover up its underwhelming plot, but I have to at least appreciate Wingard’s filmmaking style for capturing the film’s creepy tone. Another thing that I’m really impressed with is Willem Dafoe’s terrifying performance as Ryuk, a death god who is the original creator of the Death Note. I could not imagine anyone else filling in Ryuk’s shoes. His menacing voice marks a perfect fit for someone who will quite possibly haunt you in your nightmares. I mean, look at him! He’s a gosh darn demon that has quills on his back! I would not invite him to perform at my kid’s birthday party, I can tell you that. Aside from Dafoe, the rest of the cast weren’t able to follow suit in terms of their performances and their characters. Not only were these characters mediocre, but the connections between them were very weak as well, especially Light Turner (Wolff) and Mia Sutton (Qualley).
Overall, the American adaptation of “Death Note” offers an interesting and creepy premise, but in terms of its execution and character development, it’s another failed attempt to bring a popular Japanese manga to American audiences via live-action. Adam Wingard’s filmmaking style and Willem Dafoe’s portrayal as Ryuk are the only things that made this film worth watching. As for everything else, I was expecting a lot more since I am new to the source material, but that’s just me. If you’re a newcomer to the manga series like me, this film might not be able to convince you into checking it out. If you’re a fan of “Death Note”, you might like some of the elements that are in the film and nothing else. We should feel lucky that they didn’t release it in theaters.