Netflix’s original horror film “Death Note,” based on the popular anime of the same name is now available for streaming. It may scratch the horror-aesthetic itch with its impressive special effects and excellent production quality, but it will leave any viewer looking for well developed characters very disappointed.
Before the viewer realizes how horrible the writing is, they’ll notice that this film is very well executed in terms of aesthetics. The cinematography, lighting, and special effects work are simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. Additionally, the actor’s performances carry a lot of authenticity and emotion, but all this adds up to a feeling of disappointment as the quality production is squandered on an irredeemable script.
The film derives its critical issue from its choice to cram as many characters and storylines as it can into 100 minutes. The film stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner a high schooler that finds himself in control of life and death when he receives the titular Death Note, a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it. Accompanied by the Death Note is its death god, Ryuk, a shadowy monster voiced perfectly by Willem DaFoe. Ryuk acts as Turner’s guide as he sets out on a quest to rid the world of crime using the Death Note. All the creepiness and potential mischief that the Ryuk could bring to the table is sacrificed to make room for other, less interesting character. For instance, Turner’s father, the police chief who is trying to solve all the murders Turner is committing, enlists a super-detective called L. Lakeith Stanfield brings a great physicality to the role of L, but the character is a nuisance for making the film unnecessarily complicated. There’s one more key player in the plot that is so needlessly shoved in that she deserves her own little rant.
Turner’s girlfriend, Mia Sutton spoils the film right off the bat by establishing the cliche romantic subplot that is done much better in films like “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Kick-Ass.” Even worse, through her dangerous obsession with the Death Note she steals the spotlight as the antagonist, burying the main interest of the film: Ryuk.
The film set up Ryuk as the main antagonist, but then criminally underused him scene after scene. Viewers might be able to sense a simpler, better version of the story that could have been achieved by cutting down all the fat of the script. If the film focused only on Turner, his father, and Ryuk, you would be left with a striking morality dilemma, an exciting cat and mouse chase between father and son and the thrilling suspense of a cunning god of death looming ever present over the characters. Instead, we got a film that resembles an oversized burger: it looks delicious, but is overstuffed and feels like a waste.