Death Note (3 stars)

Death Note

Entertaining if overburdened manga adaptation, featuring Nat Wolff and Willem Dafoe

Scott Pilgrim meets Wishmaster in this Seattle-set adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's manga series. Featuring an 'eight-foot tall demon motherfucker' and a hero with one heck of a god complex that goes on a seemingly consequence-free global killing spree from the comfort of his home, it has enough incendiary elements to grab your attention, but the mishmash of influences can't quite hold it.

It begins as high school loner Light Turner (Nat Wolff) finds himself in possession of a supernatural notebook – the eponymous Death Note – which allows the owner to kill anyone they please by adding their name to its pages whilst picturing their face. Still raw with grief, naturally he chooses to take revenge on the mobster that murdered his mother but he doesn't stop there. With the book comes Ryuk, a towering Shinigami with a shit-eating grin who's fond of lurking in gloomy corners and closets. Voiced by Willem Dafoe with delicious menace, Ryuk draws Light all the way over to the dark side. In his increasingly deranged actions, Light is joined by peer and eventual girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley).

Director Adam Wingard (The Guest, You're Next) is a genre filmmaker par excellence, yet his own brand of mischief and mayhem feels curtailed in a film overburdened with ingredients that suffers from compressed ideas. Lakeith Stanfield is a rather-too quirky private investigator in the mould of Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, although there's fun to be had as Final Destination-style deaths are set in motion and Wingard doesn't scrimp on the splatter. Wolff (best known for Paper Towns) isn't the most charismatic lead – perfectly credible as an alienated teen and with a nice line in WTF facial expressions, but not much cop at being bad. Qualley starts out bizarrely fawning and credulous, though the narrative ultimately swings more in her character's favour. Meanwhile, the love affair with the 80s continues in the form of a shamelessly anomalous, if excellently employed soundtrack.

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.

Screening at Cineworld Leicester Square on Thu 24 Aug as part of FrightFest 2017. Available on Netflix from Fri 25 Aug.

Death Note

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 1h 41min
  • Directed by: Adam Wingard
  • Cast: Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley, Keith Stanfield, Paul Nakauchi, Shea Whigham, Willem Dafoe

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