Directed by Adam Wingard
Starring Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Jason Liles, Shea Whigham
Netflix film review by Chris Olson
Final Destination meets Wishmaster in this 2017 indie horror from director Adam Wingard. Death Note is apparently based on the manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, and stars Nat Wolff as a disenfranchised teen called Light Turner, whose cynicism with the world is put to the test when fate grants him immense power. One day a book falls from the sky which grants the “keeper” the power to write the name of someone and that person will fall victim to whatever outlandish death the scribe prescribes. The death god that carries out these cruel tweaks of fate is known as Ryuk (voiced by Willem Dafoe and physically presented by Jason Liles), a twisted being that looks like an emo Judderman.
As a premise, Death Note sticks to its guns and delivers a viscerally gripping movie that is unapologetic in its barminess. The horror moments are sparse but effective, there are some beautiful moments of dark comedy littered around the place, and the action sequences are brilliantly shot ensuring a breakneck pace is created and maintained. There was also some excellent characterisations which didn’t resort to the typical molds. Our central protagonist is dangerously blase about using the book to enact some sense of karmic balance in the world, his “love interest” girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley) is equally as gung-ho about the endeavour, whilst his cop dad (Shea Whigham) who lost his wife to the actions of a criminal is surprisingly restrained when it comes to using violence and murder to solve the world’s problems. Not to mention the eccentric behaviour of skilled investigator L (Lakeith Stanfield) who, whilst not sitting perched on two feet on a chair or slamming candy into his mouth, is enthusiastically hunting the keeper of the book.
Wingard opts for a dark atmosphere and tone to Death Note which was essential to reinforce the bleak themes that surround the story. Light's ethics become the focal point for the audience who will likely contemplate how they would use or misuse the same power of unrestrained death. It was reminiscent to how the characters in Chronicle dealt with having superpowers and the inevitably fatal fallout that ensues when power is gifted to irresponsible minds, which may or may not have some political parallels...
The movie makes a few missteps, such as being too eager to jump into the reckless killing, meaning that the central characters lose a huge amount of empathy with the viewer later on. Mia's arc is also a little hard to believe. That being said, Whigham is on fine form, delivering the movie's best performance, and Wolff is largely an enigmatic presence throughout.
For sheer guts and daring, Death Note is a fierce piece of exhilarating filmmaking.
Watch the official Movie Trailer below...