Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
American adaptations of classic anime shows have been… unsuccessful. But Hollywood is content with getting it right sooner or later and so, here we are with Netflix’s Death Note. The film, which is not a direct adaptation of the source material, tells the story of Light Turner and his finding of a notebook that kills someone whenever the person’s name is written in it. The film is gearing up for its August 26 release date and reviews have finally began trickling out. So, what do critics think of the latest american anime film? Unsurprisingly, critics aren’t a fan of Adam Wingard’s latest feature.
The film currently holds a 29% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics who are calling the film an incoherent mess, cheesy and convoluted but nonetheless praise the visuals and some of the performances. Check out our review round-up below!
The film’s frequent violence, blood and gore would surely earn an R rating in the U.S., but Netflix doesn’t need to worry about that with a streaming release (the theatrical version will go out unrated). Even so, Death Note is a far sight tamer than Wingard’s typical horror fare, lacking either the manic terror of You’re Next or the deadly irony of The Guest, for instance. Rather than relying on amplifying typical genre conventions, Wingard methodically lays the foundation to set up this particular Death Note adaptation for a potential sequel, but the outcome is more deliberate than inspired.
Julia Alexander from Polygon:
Death Note is almost a solid B-movie, but considering that wasn’t Wingard or Netflix’s intention, it makes the entire presentation unfortunate. The cat-and-mouse mystery thriller riddled with enticing dialogue that Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s manga was celebrated for doesn’t exist in Wingard’s work. Almost every decision or clue is dumbed down for the audience, but that’s not its worst offense. The characters are nowhere near as intriguing, likable or compelling as Ohba and Obata’s conceptions. Death Note ignores its characters, choosing to put its emphasis on the physical horrors associated with the notebook-that-kills instead of the psychological drama that develops around it.
Inkoo Kang from The Wrap:
Instead of thoughtful ideas or plausible characters, we get lawyerly calculations: Exploiting this rule or loophole, Light and/or Mia kill X or Y or Z individual. The increasing tension between the lovers plays out predictably and lifelessly, especially with Wolff remaining wooden throughout. Stanfield gives his first less-than-electrifying performance that I’ve seen as a screaming, sleepless weirdo who dresses like a ninja and squats on chairs with both feet on the seat. (Rude.)
David Ehrlich from IndieWire:
The one twist that gorehound director Adam Wingard (“The Guest”) adds to the mix is the assassinations are executed in the style of a “Final Destination” film. So if Light scribbles that someone gets decapitated, the death ultimately results from a Rube Goldberg-like series of events that ends with a ladder going through their brain. In a film that tries to cram 10 liters of story into eight ounces of time, it’s extremely frustrating to see so much of it wasted on gratuitous kills that can’t even stack up to the creative bloodlust of the trashy B-movies they rip off.
Gary Garrison from The Playlist:
Generally speaking, “Death Note” is an ambitious film full of interesting ideas that is more invested in visual and tonal flair than in capitalizing upon any of the themes it recklessly establishes. Wolff does his part to carry the movie, but the script doesn’t give him much of a personality or anything substantial to wrestle with (despite him being a quasi-calculating murderer and being in a relationship built off of blood lust). The standout, of sorts, is Stanfield, whose tick-laden performance is strange enough to toe the line Jake Gyllenhaal walked across in “Okja” — somewhere between genius and unbearable.
Clayton Dillard from Slant Magazine:
Death Note, Wingard’s ninth feature, expands that youthful expectation onto a global scale by adapting the Japanese manga of the same name into a specifically American tale of how the caresses and thrusts of fresh romance become, literally, weapons possessing the capacity for global destruction and domination. If in The Guest sexual feelings were crushed under the boot heels of a corporate entity gone rogue, in Death Note it’s the sex of a teenage couple itself which gives birth to the potential for a new global order.
Emma Simmonds from List Film:
The tortured teen romance (à la Heathers) unfolds against beautifully rendered comic book-esque constructions (askew angles, stark contrasts, cascades of colour). But more of Dafoe’s beastie would have been welcome, flirtations with frights merely frustrate, and it never gets close to exploring the genuine moral conundrum of the notebook itself (the sequence where Light goes power-mad whips past in a montage). By combining elements of what feels like everything, Death Note struggles to wow as anything.
Blair Marnell from IGN:
Death Note adds more teenage melodrama and condenses the story of the original manga in a way that isn’t always satisfying to watch. While the leads falter, the supporting cast steps up in a big way to keep their parts in the movie grounded and entertaining. Willem Dafoe’s Ryuk was an absolutely inspired piece of casting, and he easily carried his scenes. If there is a sequel, bringing him back as Ryuk is a must.
So what do you think? Are you watching Death Noe this weekend? Comment below and on social media and for all things in nerd culture and entertainment, keep it locked on Talkies Network!