A Quick Paced Missed Opportunity
Adapted from the popular manga with the same name, Netflix’s Death Note is a pale imitation with a frantic pace that leaves little time for characterisation or to explore its interesting premise. With a slightly convoluted plot, Death Note tries to imitate the manga with little success and what we end up with is a film that, with better script writing and a slower pace, could have been a great title but fails to deliver a compelling adaptation.
The film starts brightly enough, with a storm breaking out and high school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) winding up in possession of a strange book called “Death Note” that lands on a table next to him. A spiked monster called Ryuk (voiced by Willem Dafoe) appears soon after and explains Light can now kill anyone after following a series of rules and writing their name within the book. On paper its a simple premise and one that certainly holds a lot of intrigue. What could have taken a more methodical, thematically challenging turn devolves into a fast paced by-the-numbers thriller that never takes the time to build its characters or any of the themes it barely touches on throughout.
With a flurry of casualties dying in a number of brutal ways, Death Note leaves little time to care or see any consequences for these actions, let alone exploring deeply the reasoning behind why Light is doing this. To be fair, we do learn early on that Light’s mother died and the killings are fuelled by vengeance but this anger simmers out partway through the film leaving it difficult to decipher exactly why he’s continuing beyond impressing Mia which in itself is just a tad creepy. The violence is pretty shocking too, with a number of bloody, gruesome scenes depicted with reckless abandon that feels jarring to the rest of the film.
The quick pace the film takes hurts any credible characterisation between the characters, especially the forced romance between light and Mia (Margaret Qualley) that’s never given the time to grow and never feels realistically depicted. When some of the more serious, emotional moments between the two occur, the lack of time given to let their relationship blossom ultimately means they don’t feel real. The script leaves little time to dwell on this though and zips along at a frenetic pace toward its big climax. Whilst it does feature a nice little twist and leaves it open for a sequel, it never feels like a pay off that’s earned, making the ending more frustrating than intriguing.
For all its negatives, Death Note still has an interesting plot. The captivating nature of the plot makes Death Note an easily digestible film and its quick pace might suit some people that like cutting straight to the chase without long, drawn out openings. The lighting in the film is also generally well done, with some clever effects used on the mysterious Ryuk to make sure we never fully see his entire form. Whilst the camera angles and shots are pretty by-the-numbers and don’t feature any stand out shots, they’re all used well and the blurred effect used on scenes with Ryuk in the background further accentuates his mysterious presence in the film.
Ultimately, Death Note is a missed opportunity. Its a shame too because the ingredients are here for a good adaptation, despite not sticking to the source material at times. Adapting material like this to a 90 minute film meant changes were inevitable and can be forgiven but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The frantic pace and lack of characterisation are the biggest victims of a lacklustre script that certainly doesn’t do the manga justice. Its a shame too because the plot is intriguing and gripping but everything else just feels shallow.