Death Note, based on the anime of the same name, follows a high school student who falls onto the possession of a mystical book that kills anyone whose name is entered into it. Overshadowed by a demonic figure that follows the book and its owner, the young man uses the book to remove evil from the world while also attempting to avoid capture from a particularly brilliant and eccentric world-spanning detective.
Death Note Review
I have a confession...I have not seen the Death Note anime. However, I look to take advantage of my perspective in this review. It's not common that I view a horror film that is an adaptation or remake in which I am not fully aware and experienced with the source material. Yes, I knew what Death Note was going into the film and the general premise, but I wasn't familiar with any of the content personally. Thus, I decided to purposefully go in blind to use my naivety as a strength, so as to avoid favoritism or obscuring comparisons as I watched.
The pacing is lightning-fast, the tone is awkward, the film as a whole is campy and goofy, the character dynamics are brash and shallow, the two leads act like they were aspiring anime-to-live-action thespians in high school...and yet, I loved it. Death Note doesn't take itself seriously from the beginning of the film on, setting its tone of black humor at the forefront. It traded the humor for its thriller-esque game of cat-and-mouse at a whim as the pacing flew through its plot and characters at such a rapid pace that the plot seems far more unrealistic than it already is.
Suddenly, our lead is in possession of the book, and then meets the demon-god, then uses the book, then shares the mystery of the book with his soon-to-be-girlfriend, and then they fall in love and begin to work out a plan for the use of the book. Oh, did I just spoil the whole story?...No, that's about the first 15 to 20 minutes of the movie. But despite this blazing-fast pacing, you are engaged with every moment because the quirkiness of the whole thing is embraced rather than an afterthought in post-production like the director didn't realize his gaff until he sent the crew home.
Willem Dafoe's voice work as the titular demon-god Ryuk was masterful. The visuals for Ryuk were broodingly and beautifully done, keeping him in the shadows, out of focus, or off-camera, while having his spines and spikes dance in the lighting of whatever scene he was in. For this alone, I give major accolades to the production. I don't know what Ryuk was like in the anime, but in the film, it was a character worth praising for his incarnation.
The music was another fantastic element of the film used to carry the tone perfectly. It at times reminded me of the Drive soundtrack because of its treatment of mixed pop songs and synthesizer-like chords throughout. The cinematography and overuse of zooms and slow-pans felt forced at times, but overall fit the mold of the story well.
I plan to now go and watch the episodic anime version of Death Note as it is also available on Netflix right now. I loved the movie enough to see how the anime differs in the sense of tone, in particular, but also to see the story slowed down significantly so I can bask in the depth of the characters and their motivations. The Netflix film was certainly a joy ride, but not one I would consider especially layered, likely due to the fact it was cramming a season's worth of material into a single film. I think that it could've been corrected by perhaps an increased runtime, but I don't know if it would have been enough. Pacing-wise, it just may have been doomed from the start.