Books are bad anyway. Don’t bother with them.
Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is like any other high school kid his age. He’s angsty, pissed-off, and just trying to do whatever he can to get by. While doing other students’ homework for money, he stumbles upon a book called “Death Note”. It’s mysterious and weird-looking, with random names in them and Light has no clue what to make of it. Somehow though, he discovers that names can be written into the book and whoever they are, they’ll be killed by an evil, maniacle death god, Ryuk (Willem Dafoe). Ryuk torments Light and forces him to write more names down and while Light is initially against this form of punishment, a girl he’s been crushing on mega-hard (Margaret Qualley), begins to fall for him, as well as the book. So what’s the harm in using the book, so long as it’s used for the greater-good? Well, law-enforcement begins to catch wind of something funky happening, which leads expert L (Keith Stanfield), to help out the police in nabbing just who, or what, is behind all of this.
For a short while there, it seemed like director Adam Wingard was going to be the bright new voice in horror. With two films under his belt (You’re Next, the Guest), Wingard showed us that while he loved paying homage to the old-school horror flicks of the 70’s and 80’s, he also enjoyed developing some original ideas of his own, where he was able to be inventive and original, while also still maintain a sense of fun for anyone who decided to check out what he was doing. Then, he took an odd step last year with the incredibly misguided remake, Blair Witch, and then things got weird. All of a sudden, it seemed like the fresh, young talent involved with these indies was all wrapped-up in the world of mainstream, big-budgeted film-making.
Surely, this wouldn’t be the same case with Death Note, right?
Unfortunately, nope. It seems as though we’ve lost Wingard again. And while Death Note isn’t nearly as bad Blair Witch, there’s still an issue with it in that it seems messy and almost rushed; it’s as if Netflix had a certain, specific-date of when they wanted this to hit the streaming-service and gave Wingard just enough time to film and edit everything. But for some reason, it just doesn’t quite work, or ever seem to come together.
It wants to be many of things. For one, it wants to be a coming-of-age flick in which a young kid tries to grapple with school, life, his family, his career, and death. Another, it wants to be a creepy, cruel and spooky horror-flick in which a death god speaks directly to him. Then, it also wants to be a dark-comedy that sort of plays with the goofy idea of a book being able to kill people. And last, but certainly not least, it sort of wants to be a superhero flick. In a way, all of these different strands of story are interesting and, if put together well enough, could actually work, side-by-side.
But that never happens.
Instead, we get a lot of hinting and swimming over these certain aspects, without any really being fully developed. For instance, we never really actually get to know Light beyond what we’re told of him and his life; he and his dad don’t get along, his mom was killed, he’s smart, and yeah, he’s a bit of social outcast. Nat Wolff is constantly getting better and better with each role and he truly does try his all here, but this character is so thinly-written that at the end of the day, it feels like a waste of his talents. Same goes for everyone else in this talented cast, with the exception of Keith Stanfield as L, a possible hero/possible villain, who gets enough wacky moments to have some fun, but also falls prey to the weak writing here.
And that’s what it all comes down to: Weak writing. The action isn’t all that tense, the drama isn’t really compelling, and the premise, while promising all sorts and sorts of fun and excitement, never actually gets to that point. It feels too much like Wingard and company are doing fan-service to those who loved the manga from which this is adapting, but also actually forgot to really give the fans a good time.
Which is all anybody wants.
Consensus: With a talented cast and crew, as well as an interesting premise to-boot, Death Note should have been fun, exciting, and worth the watch, but instead, it’s misguided, incoherent, and boring. Good thing it’s short. Right? Is it. I don’t even know.
4 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire