“The human whose name is written in this note shall die.” Now that is a fantastic premise, and one which has fuelled multiple adaptations of the iconic manga series Death Note. The latest, a Netflix Original Film, has been accused of “whitewashing” the original’s tale of a killer notebook by relocating it from Tokyo to Seattle - which has only served to prolong its notoriety, as the movie itself feels disposable at best and utterly baffling at worst.
You see, this “reimagining” trades multiple heart attacks and psychological thrills for gory spectacle and teen melodrama - which could easily be forgiven if its two vigilantes, played by Nat Wolff and Margaret Qualley, had any real depth. Yet despite the agenda of Qualley’s Mia Sutton driving most of the narrative, her motivations aren’t explored beyond a lust for power and a distaste for criminals. But what’s truly problematic is Wolff’s Light Turner; the film repeatedly avoids justifying the savagery of his killing spree whilst bending over backwards to absolve him of wrongdoing. Gone is the manga’s manipulative mastermind, replaced by a stereotypically “troubled” teenager constantly strong-armed into murder, either by his girlfriend or the notebook’s accompanying “death god” Ryuk. This adds not only to the film’s severe lapses in logic - which it attempts to skip by with a breezy 101 minute runtime - but also a clear disinterest in the moral ambiguities which made the original Light and Death Note itself so compelling.
Truthfully, beyond the occasional contrived line and a hilarious first encounter between Light and Willem Dafoe’s Ryuk, it’s difficult to find any satisfaction in this new take. Granted, Lakeith Stanfield puts admirable effort into his performance as fan favourite detective L, and the twists and turns on the original story may provide cheap entertainment during initial viewings. But for newcomers enticed by that fantastic premise, Netflix’s Death Note offers little beyond mere, mindless spectacle.
How fortunate then that the superior anime adaptation is also available on Netflix.