Review: Death Note (2017)
Death Note (2017)
Film Review/Essay by: Benjamin Allen Dickson
Netflix’s live action take on Death Note is quite peculiar. It brought a lot of questions to the table, and had me constantly questioning the decisions that were made by the writers, directors, actors… everyone really. This “remake” of Death Note is so intriguing in what the creators chose to do, and chose not to do. In this review I’m not going to complain and talk shit about the film for a few paragraphs, because at this point that has been done countless times, instead I will look at the origins of the film, why I believe this film was made, and the nature of the film itself.
The original Death Note anime aired in Japan on October 3rd, 2006 and ended on June 26th, 2007. The show was met with praise from both critics and audiences alike, praising how original it is and unlike an other anime. I still am one of these people praising the original anime, am I in love with it? No. Is it my favorite anime? No, not at all. Just figured I’d get that out of the way, so you know this isn’t going to be some snot nosed review from a hot headed fanboy about how this new Death Note movie sucks. I think the anime is great, it has fantastic writing and it is probably my #1 go-to for people who want to get into anime but have only seen Pokemon, or shows related to this. It is not over the top, it is careful and thought provoking, which is great for novice and seasoned anime fans alike.
Enter Adam Wingard, director of films like You’re Next (a modern slasher favorite of mine), The Guest (one of my favorite films of 2014), and Blair Witch in 2016 (no comment). So obviously, I don’t have a problem with Adam Wingard at all, I think he’s an interesting director. After hearing that Shane Black was being rumored to direct this new adaption of Death Note, I was very excited to hear that Adam Wingard ended up being chosen. The movie was passed around from studios and Wingard stated that either they wouldn’t give him enough money for the project or they wanted to make it PG-13. And knowing good ol’ Adam, he wouldn’t stand for that.
So what went wrong? Why didn’t I like this movie, even though on paper this seems like a win-win for me? A brilliant anime and one of Hollywood’s most interesting horror director’s working side by side? Well you know when you have two foods you love, like peanut butter and scrambled eggs, and then you put them together and they taste god-awful together? That is what we have here. Trust me, PB and Scrambled Eggs is not worth it. Take my word for it. Besides that point, the scrambled eggs in this analogy is Death Note, and the peanut butter spread all over it is the 80’s style and aesthetic. Peanut butter and scrambled eggs are equally fantastic separately, but they don't belong in the same bite, or at least it didn’t in that particular time I cooked them together.
Why Was This Film Made Anyway?
Even though some people view this film as an easy cash grab, which it totally might be, it seems more like a failed vision. Almost as if Wingard or anyone else involved wanted to mix their peanut butter and scrambled eggs, two ideas that would make great films on their own, but just do not mix at all. Netflix’s Death Note mixes the 80’s teen movies tropes, heavily influenced by the dark comedy of the 1989 cult hit Heathers, as well as a synth style score reminiscent to Netflix’s Stranger Things or Wingard’s own film earlier The Guest, mixed with his own take on the Death Note story.
I have to admit, I appreciate Wingard for making a remake that is almost unrecognizable to the source material. That’s pretty ballsy. If it was done well, I would applaud it. But alas, instead we get a film that both alienates its core fanbase as well as newcomers and critics alike. The film adds in new characters, takes even more characters out and has a completely different story. The only real similarities is that there is a Death Note and some of the characters have the same names, that is pretty crazy to do for a beloved franchise. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s still no bueno.
So You Hated It?
No, not at all. Hate is a strong word, compadre. I don’t hate this Death Note film at all. If you are a hardcore fan of Death Note, yeah you might hate it, it’s a dumbed down simplified version of a expertly written crime noir/thriller. Even without prior knowledge of the source material, it’s still not a good movie. It’s paced awkwardly, the characters have weak motivations, the gore is like a Final Destination movie, and the music sticks out like a sore thumb.
The weakest part of the film by far is Nat Wolff, who plays Light in the film, he overreacts almost to a Nicholas Cage level and has a face that you just really want to punch. I was astonished that he was picked to play this role, some of his reaction shots are so laughably bad I am beyond astonished that they decided those were the best takes. Sure Willem Defoe is good in this, he is always a badass, if you disagree watch Spider-Man 2, but unfortunately even he couldn’t save this movie. Keith Stanfield, who you may recognize from Straight Outta Compton or Get Out, plays the role of L, and he is actually pretty good in the role, he definitely did the best he could with a horribly underwritten character and a lazy script with lazy dialogue. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, not memorable at all.
So, if you have already seen Heathers, you’ve already seen a better version of this movie. If you are curious about this new Netflix atrocity, and haven’t seen Heathers or the original Death Note, go watch these instead (both on Netflix too!) and save yourself the brainpower. The movie really isn't the worst, it’s just not particularly good. Go enjoy the peanut butter and scrambled eggs separately in their own meals, and turn the other way when Netflix tries to offer you them in a combo meal.