2017, Based on a Manga, Creative Killings, Creepy Movies, Dark Fantasy, Death Obssession, Demons, Government Agents, Horror Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Monster Movies, Monsters, Murder!, Netflix Movies, Supernatural, Teen Horror 0
DEATH NOTE (2017)
Review by L.L. Soares
Netflix sure has had a lot of original content on their site lately. Aside from like 101 new TV shows you can binge-watch at your heart’s desire, they’ve also been premiering several movies. The last time we reviewed a Netflix-original film here at Cinema Knife Fight was the new Joon-ho Bong movie, OKJA (2017) back in June. And now we get the new horror film DEATH NOTE (2017), based on the famous Japanese manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, which has become a craze in Japan, spawning anime films and a TV series.
The American version is directed by Adam Wingard, who previously made YOU’RE NEXT (2011) and THE GUEST (2014), which I liked a lot, and the reboot of BLAIR WITCH (2016), which I didn’t like at all. It’s clear Wingard has talent, and he’s been announced as the director of the upcoming remake of the Korean film I SAW THE DEVIL as well as the upcoming giant monster event film GODZILLA VS. KONG (due out in 2020).
DEATH NOTE begins with the proverbial shy high school kid, named Light Turner (Nat Wolff, also in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, 2014, and PAPER TOWNS, 2015). He gets bullied a lot and writes stuff in his notebook. He also seems to be drawing the attention of bad girl cheerleader, Mia Sutton (we can tell she’s a bad girl because when we first see her, she’s smoking). She’s played by Margaret Qualley who was also Jill Garvey in the HBO series THE LEFTOVERS (2014 -2017), and has been in the movies PALO ALTO (2013) and THE NICE GUYS (2016).
One day while sitting on the bleachers, a clap of thunder accompanies a notebook falling from the sky and (more or less) into Light’s lap. It’s leather bound and says “Death Note” on the cover. Inside, there are lots and lots of rules saying how this book can be used. And pages of hand-written names. Light has no idea where it came from, but it’s clear from the rules that it’s supposed to have a very strange power. If you write someone’s name in the book, and think of their face, they will die.
Light doesn’t really believe it, though, and goes off to detention (it’s a long story), where he happens to be the only kid there. When the teacher leaves the room, everything goes dark and Light is terrorized by an eight-foot-tall, spiky demon with glowing eyes called Ryuk (played by Jason Liles with CGI effects, with a voice provided by Willem Dafoe). Ryuk is the death god of the book and explains that he’ll make sure whoever is written down in the book will meet a gruesome end. Light can even decide how they die. Light is resistant and refuses to believe, even though this giant demon is in front of him, until he actually tries it, and the school bully gets killed.
Maybe there’s something to this book after all.
Light tries it again at home, using the book to kill a man who caused a family tragedy for Light (and got away without punishment). When this death also comes true, he realizes that he holds a tremendous amount of power in his hands.
He doesn’t tell anyone about his newfound gift, except for Mia, who he’s trying to impress (of course). When he’s able to convince her he’s telling the truth, they team up to use the Death Note book for the betterment of mankind, by looking up awful human beings (tyrants, terrorists, criminals) and having Light write their names in his book. He also starts forcing his victims to leave notes saying that they’re killing themselves because of someone named Kira (Light’s alter ego, since he can control what his victims do in their last moments).
When a rash of deaths occur in the name of Kira, the whole world takes notice. Even though the deaths involve “bad” people, there are those who like what Kira is doing, and those who want to stop him. One of the latter is Light’s father, James (Shea Whigham, also in KONG: SKULL ISLAND, 2017, and such TV shows as BOARDWALK EMPIRE, where he played Eli Thompson from 2010 – 2014, and AGENT CARTER, 2015), a police detective who eventually becomes head of the task force set up to find and stop Kira.
In his new position, James comes into contact with a mysterious figure named on “L,” (Lakeith Stanfield, who plays Darius on the FX Channel series ATLANTA, and was also in GET OUT, 2017). L keeps his name a secret, and hides most of his face, which is smart because that way Light can’t write him down, even if he did break his rule not to kill any good people. L comes off as a kind of special ops ninja guy.
Meanwhile, Light and Mia continue to decide who to kill, and Light continues to write names in his notebook, much to Ryuk’s glee. That is, until Light starts to get cautious, and the impatient Ryuk wants him to get back to his murder spree, or pass the book onto someone who will.
I actually liked this movie a lot. Sure, there are some absurd aspects to it (the way the notebook originally falls from the sky, and the fact that even though Light is supposed to be the only person who can write in the book for it to work, other people write in it at later points and it still works), but I liked the overall story and tone. The stars, Nat Wolff and Margaret Qualley, are likeable and sympathetic. Even though they’re doing something awful, their intentions are mostly good. Ryuk, who pops up a lot to have conversations with Light, is sometimes spooky and sometimes a little silly, but that’s common with mostly CGI creations. And Lakeith Stanfield is good as a character who is hyper-smart but also a complete outsider, whose only purpose in life is solving crimes.
The story is engaging and thought-provoking, and, overall, a lot of fun. I give it three and a half knives.
© Copyright 2017 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives DEATH NOTE ~three and a half knives.