By Ellen Cicchitti
When Netflix’s liveaction film adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s best-selling anime and manga series Death Note was released, fans were skeptical and for good reason. Hollywood, in recent years, has been known for the awful liveaction remakes of beloved cartoons and anime.
The main story of Death Note is about a high school student named Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who stumbles upon a black book of the same name of the film. This book grants light the supernatural ability to kill anyone whose name and face he knows. With the Death God Ryuk (Willem Dafoe) at his side, Light decides to wield the book in order to “cleanse” the world of evil as a god called “Kira.” However, an eccentric detective named L (Lakeith Stanfield) is determined to stop him.
Dafoe’s performance as Ryuk, the Death God, who gives Light the “Death Note,” was enjoyable and intriguing. But that seemed to be one of the few good things about it.
Light Turner is different from his original anime counterpart, Light Yagami. Nevertheless, that is not a good thing; he is uninteresting, and no certain part of his character stood out. The super detective L had described him as a “particularly bright kid,” but that does not get across throughout the film. He seemed to be more of an overly-emotional outcast who had no connection to anyone besides his father (Shea Wigham) and his soon-to-be girlfriend Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley).
The writers never explained why he seemed to be unpopular among the student body, either. They had written Light Turner to be more relatable than his original genius counterpart, but they seemed to forget about showing why the audience should relate to him. He looked like more of a loser rather than a sociopathic teenager who had no interest in anyone due to his high intelligence.
Whether this film is supposed to be seen as a stand-alone or not, the pace is all over the place. Too much information gets crammed tightly into this 101-minute movie, especially information regarding the numerous rules of the “Death Note.”
Light’s motivations were also unclear, only wielding the “Death Note” to stop a bully and to gain the affections of Mia, before escalating his goals to use the “Death Note“ as a means of revenge on criminals. Then his emotions get the better of him; even after subjecting 400 people to ridiculously gory deaths, he suddenly does not want to wield the “Death Note” anymore.
The main problem of this film, besides the subpar dialogue and pacing, is that it is unclear what genre this movie is supposed to be. Is it a suspenseful thriller? A gore-infested horror fest? Some dark romance, even though that subplot felt oddly rushed? The identity of the film felt jumbled and broken.
The “twist” at the end was rather predictable, and it was not even that shocking. There was never a sense of urgency from any of the events in the movie, not even in the last 30 minutes. The chase scene between Light and L was a little exciting, but that was the farthest stretch of emotion that could be felt aside from confusion and disgust.
The soundtrack, having been composed by Leopold Ross and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails, had a rock-heavy vibe, but it was barely noticeable, even during important scenes.
It is not necessarily ridiculous that the film chose not to follow the anime to a tee, as it is not at all easy to adapt a series to a film, but it failed to adapt the anime in a unique way. If the concept of the movie fascinated anyone, they should probably just watch the show.
Netflix’s Death Note, while a quick and gruesome film, is definitely not worth a second watch. Unless, of course, you want to get another laugh at Wolff’s hilarious overacting.