26th Aug2017

Frightfest 2017: ‘Death Note’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Jason Liles, Paul Nakauchi, Jack Ettlinger, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Chris Britton | Written by Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, Jeremy Slater | Directed by Adam Wingard


When Light Turner (Nat Wolff) comes in possession of the Death Note, Ryuk (Willem Dafoe) entices him to use it to kill those that deserve it. Enjoying the power that it brings, Light soon finds himself the focus of the enigmatic detective L (Lakeith Stanfield) who is obsessed with tracking him down.

One thing I did when watching this version of Death Note was to try to put the anime version to the back of my mind, as that is my favourite version. This does prove hard as it sets up a good perspective of who Light should be, who Ryuk is, and of course how awesome L is.

When we are introduced to Light, he is different to what we would expect. This is a shame, because as much as Nat Wolff may try the character doesn’t hold the audience’s attention as much as it should. A lot of this is down to the time the film has to endear the audience to him. The same goes for his girlfriend (or should we say fellow fanatic) Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley).

It is the relationship between Light and Mia that caused a few issues for me. While the characters may profess their love for each other, the obsession over the Death Note is much more powerful. This damages the ending somewhat as there isn’t much credibility in the whole “if you love me you won’t go for the book” scenario. It is understandable as to why the plot goes for this route, but it just doesn’t hold up in terms of a credible relationship. If anything, the film just doesn’t have the time to build up the relationship to create the intense battle between love and Death Note.

Then of course there is Ryuk, and this is a controversial issue for fans of Death Note. What we see in this version is a good performance by Dafoe, but a version of Ryuk that doesn’t sit well. What fans expect with Ryuk is a playful demon that does enjoy the death that he brings, but he doesn’t exactly push for it. What we have in this version is a darker Ryuk who not only pushes Light to kill, but he intentionally manipulates the book to make sure the deaths keep coming. This bugged me somewhat, and I’m sure it’ll bug many other fans too.

What I did like was the attention to detail that was put into creating L. There are call-backs to the obsession with eating candy, the eccentric nature of the character and of course his brilliant deduction skills. In the little time Death Note has to create a relationship between Light and L though really does damage L’s part in the story. Fans will know that L has a bigger part, and it really feels like a battle between a master detective and his nemesis. This should feel like Sherlock Holmes vs Moriarty, but it never reaches those heights.

In raising these points, it is very easy to look back to better versions of Death Note, and show they are better. This is something that will always be true and there is no changing that. What can’t be ignored though is the fact that this film version of Death Note has a character all of its own. It may feel like “Death Note-lite” but as an entity within itself, it is entertaining and it manages to feel like its own interpretation of the story.

Adam Wingard has a hard mountain to climb in taking Death Note, and while he may not have succeeded for the most part, he has still managed to create a good movie that is entertaining. While it doesn’t escape the shadows of past versions, this is still a version that deserves some love and respect.

**** 4/5

Death Note had its UK premiere at Frghtfest on Thursday August 24th. The film is available on Netflix now.


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