Death Note ~ Review

Having only cursory knowledge about DEATH NOTE, I missed the outcry of the white washing of the Manga-inspired film. To me many Asian properties (The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye) have been reinterpreted, transplanting their Asian roots and resetting them in America with white actors. Cultural insensitivity aside, this particular story was much more beloved and carries a deeper resonance with Japanese audiences and beyond. And who can blame them. The story is a multi-layered and sensational exploration of right, wrong, God-complex, cults, and one malevolent trickster spirit.

The Netflix original film directed by Adam Wingard (who also directed the notable films You’re Next, The Guest, Blair Witch) stands as it’s own creation, albeit on very wobbly legs. It leans much more towards the horror genre and was surprisingly gory. Unfortunately, there is entirely too much story for one movie and it becomes a burden trying to cram so much narrative into 1 hour and 40 minutes – like the ridiculous montage of how a teenager launches a global cult! The more fantastical elements hit viewers right from the start with little explanation. There is no option other than to go with it and accept this talking, wise-cracking demon and the special powers he brings.

The cast is capable enough to bring some grounding with the standout being Lakeith Stanfield as the brilliantly affected “L” (who has a tiny but mesmerizing role in Get Out). But, of course, we wanted to know more about two things: the notebook that brings death to whoever’s name is written within it’s pages (How did this book come to be? How does it truly work?) and the chatty, enigmatic demon behind it (who would likely be happy to share all secrets if asked). The rules of the game remain murky, especially towards the second half when all rules seem to go out the window.

The action is fleeting (literally) and terribly edited and we are often lost in the spectacle, especially towards the end. I paused and rewound much too often to figure out what was happening. All this points to a slapdash process that was likely caused by an accelerated production schedule. By contrast, Wingard’s other films let you settle into the horror of the situation, savoring every beat and nuance like a piece of arsenic-tinged hard candy.

Death Note still somehow manages to be entertaining in that middle-of-the-week kind of way, but with so many missed opportunities, some downright weird tonal shifts, and a perplexing overstuffed plot that is also completely unsatisfying I'm not sure it warrants even a borderline recommendation. If nothing else, it did pique my interest in exploring the original Death Note manga.