Before diving into the review let me address one issue surrounding Death Note. This film scores incredibly low on many movie review websites. It seems fans of the original Japanese comic absolutely hated this Netflix adaptation. I get the disappointment, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge a movie by how closely it sticks to the source material. I watched Death Note without knowing anything about the anime series or comic and still loved it.
The premise of Death Note is simple yet intriguing. What would you do if you could kill a person by writing their name in a notebook? When this leather-bound book of doom lands in the lap of schoolboy Light Turner (Nat Wolff) he must decide how to wield its power. The book also comes with a ridiculous amount of rules.
These are explained to our main character by the appearance of the demon known as ‘Ryuk’ a delightfully devilish character voiced by Willem Dafoe. In one scene Ryuk explains “Rule 28: Each death must be physically possible. So no shark attacks while someone's on the toilet, as much as I love that idea.” The character Ryuk is dark and terrifying. He looks like a Gremlin on steroids and delivers his lines in a comical manner reminiscent of Deadpool (review here).
Light Turner decides to use his new power to rid the world of criminals. But only after settling a few personal scores! He adds the names of murderers, rapists and all manner of villains to the book. These deplorables get despatched in gruesome and occasionally hilarious manner. As the plot develops the film pivots from ‘Final Destination’ moments to Rumpelstiltskin territory. Yet, these contrasting elements never feel overly forced. Visually the movie is impressive. Homage is paid to the Death Note manga origins with clever use of camera angles and lighting. The film has a feel of an early Spielberg movie or more recent Netflix series like ‘Stranger Things’.
There's enough gore in here to keep hardcore horror fans happy. Thankfully, it’s not at the expense of the plot lines or acting. Willem Dafoe’s voice is super creepy as the Ryuk and the rest of the cast do a fine job. The original anime consisted of 37 episodes, which needed to be condensed into 1hr 40mins. So parts of this film do feel rushed and some characters don’t get fully developed or explored. Having said that, this is still a hugely enjoyable horror movie which offers more than just blood and guts.