Death Note 2017 is NOT a bad movie. On this edition of ‘In Defense of Bad Movies That Aren’t so Bad‘, I break down why everyone should give props to the latest adaptation of the beloved Anime classic from director Adam Wingard (The Guest).
The American live-action film adaptation of the classic Manga/Anime series Death Note is directed by Adam Wingard (The Guest) and stars Nat Wolff (Paper Towns). Co-starring Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Keith Stanfield, Paul Nakauchi and Shea Whigham, the film is streaming now on Netflix!
A high school student discovers a supernatural notebook that has deadly powers. He can kill anyone he wishes simply by inscribing their name within its pages. Intoxicated with his new power, he begins to eliminate those he deems unworthy of life.
Who thinks it sucks?
Warning – Major Spoilers Ahead
Why it DOESN’T suck:
Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, the original creators of the Death Note manga have been quoted as giving their approval for the latest Netflix flick adapted from their work saying:
“It was more interesting than I expected. Every bit of it is high quality and very fashionable, it’s definitely Hollywood’s Death Note. I think a wide range of people can enjoy this movie, not just fans, because there are parts that follow the original work but also changes, too. Adam Wingard’s visual beauty and thrilling directorial are splendid, and create a class ‘A’ thriller. This is the kind of the Death Note I’d like to draw as well.” – Tsugumi Ohba.
Now, I’ve seen the anime series (which is also readily available on Netflix, and it’s pretty damn good and very original, but I always, ALWAYS, wind up getting puzzled by some of the cultural differences that can be jarring in tone while watching anime. It happened to me with Attack on Titan as well, which is why I was one of the few people who enjoyed the live-action adaptation, because it streamlined the story and dropped some of the bizarre and out of place comedic moments that would occur either right after, or sometimes DURING, intense moments. In other words, as much as I enjoy the original source material and series, it’s nice to see a different cultural view of Death Note that seems better focused to tell a similar story for me without bastardising the amazing concept.
Director Adam Wingard managed to pay homage to Death Note with his “re-imagining” of the cult classic and I think he did a wicked job doing just that while still retaining his unique directorial style, which includes highly stylised visuals and a terrific soundtrack. Death Note is more in tone with his masterpiece The Guest than say something like Blair Witch and I love that. This is the kind of Wingard flick I can truly get behind and have a blast watching. The fact that it’s on Netflix AND it’s done well enough to probably warrant a sequel makes me very pleased.
Death Note wastes zero time getting directly to the point, with Light (Nat Wolff) finding the titular book after it falls from the sky during a storm and almost immediately begins testing it out in all of it’s gruesome glory. At a brisk hour and forty minutes, Death Note is pedal to the metal and I appreciate that there’s no meandering about. Light is a troubled youth and his girlfriend is even more disturbed so the pair begin a quest of taking out the trash with the help of the demonic Ryuk, voiced by the intimidating Willem Dafoe. I love how Dafoe said he had discovered a certain vocal approach for Ryuk — what would that be Dafoe? Satan? Because it was Satan and it was your NORMAL VOICE… SATAN.
Dafoe was easily the best performance in the film but Keith Stanfield’s ‘L’ is a close second. I loved this version of ‘L’ in Death Note 2017… He retained his unique obsessive qualities but he was more vulnerable in this version as well and a lot of that is attributed to Stanfield’s brilliant take on the character. By the end of the movie when L has a chance to write down Light’s name on a page from the Death Note, I legit wasn’t sure if he’d do it or not after all the bullshit that happened to him in the final act…
Speaking of which, the final moments of the film are absolutely wonderful and I loved the twist where Light explains to his father how he managed to pull off his own rescue after the insane Ferris Wheel debacle which seemed a little too far-fetched at the time, even for a movie about a magical death book. The film ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, so I’m happy that we’ll likely get a second film, which was always in the cards according to Wingard, who I’m hoping will return to direct after he does his King Kong Vs. Godzilla thing. But if he doesn’t have time, that’s OK – because the world he set up with Death Note is ripe for any filmmaker to play in at this point and the rivalry between L and Light needs to be ramped up in the most dark and intense of ways.
The only thing that irked me about this adaptation were Light’s screams. Nat Wolff sounds like Ned Flanders when he gets frightened. At first I thought it was a goof in the classroom when he first meets Ryuk, but nope — he just screams like that and he does so later on the film. It’s hilarious actually, but unfortunately it takes away from the moment a little in the process. Aside from that – Death Note is really a damn fine, killer Netflix romp that I feel is being criminally abused right now by fans of the source material who would never have been satisfied unless they turned this thing into a new episodic series. Look – it’s a film and it’s a “re-imagining” so take it for what it’s worth and I think it’s a wicked thriller that packs a nasty punch.