Last night, the husband and I were looking for something to watch on Netflix, and we came across this interesting looking “horror movie: called Death Note. The premise is that a teenage boy, Light (yes, that’s his name), comes across a leather journal labeled “Death Note.” In the book, there are a list of rules, but what it all boils down to is that if he writes down the name of the person while holding their face his his mind, they die. He can even pick the method.
He starts with the school bully. (That’s not a spoiler. If you couldn’t see that a million miles away, then this is probably the first movie you’ve ever watched.) Ryuk, presumably the creature who orchestrates the killings, appears to him and goads him into killing more people.
Sounds pretty cool, right? It’s apparently based on manga of the same name, and people who reviewed this vs. the manga on imdb.com said that the creators got most everything wrong.
I haven’t read the manga, but the story felt off to me. The whole time I was watching it, I wanted to like it. But it was too much like bad TV movie instead of the quality I’ve come to expect from Netflix originals. Even worse, the premise was fantastic, and I saw how it could have been great.
What I didn’t like (SPOILERS below):
- It turned into a bad cop show. Now, I love cop shows. But this was supposed to be a horror movie. It was like a caricature, with the nameless “secret” detective not only believing that a single person could be responsible for the deaths of 400 people, but then figuring it out that it’s a teenage boy. Yes, Light has people leave his “signature” at their death scenes, but the police never heard of copycat crime?
- No real exploration of human nature. The kid starts killing bad people, starting with the bully and then the guy who was responsible for his mother’s death. Which is totally understandable. Light starts dating this girl who’s obsessed with death. At first they’re just killing bad people: rapists and murderers. But when detectives start getting too close to them, Mia wants to kill the detectives and Light doesn’t. This could have been such an interesting storyline, but they just left it flat. Light was the good guy, Mia was the bad guy. Black and white.
- The book falls from the sky. The first scene of the movie is that a storm rolls in, and the Death Note literally falls from the sky. Literally falls from the sky. Light picks it up and becomes the “keeper.” This is the dumbest way it could have happened to get the book. Off the top of my head, I can think of many better ways for this to happen. It’s too deus ex machina for me. But at least the opening scene set the stage for how the rest of the movie would go.
- Light never wonders what happened to the last keeper(s) of the book. Ryuk alludes several times the previous keepers, but Light doesn’t seem to pick up on it. Ryuk says only the keeper can hold the book for more than 7 days. And that Light can either give the book away, or Ryuk can find a new keeper. But the way he said it made me wonder if the last one died, and how.
- I love when music blends seamlessly into the background, enhancing the mood. This didn’t do that. It led to that caricature-like atmosphere I mentioned before.
- The ending was ambiguous. I like ambiguous endings, when appropriate. The ending of Inception was cool because it wasn’t lazy storytelling; it was part of the story. In this case, how it ended would change the message of the entire movie. I understand why the writers did it; to leave it open to the audience to determine, like a commentary on human nature. But the rest of the story didn’t do a good enough job of this to have it end this way.
One thing I really liked:
Other than the premise, the one thing I really liked about this show was the fact that people started worshipping “Kira,” the entity who took credit for the killings. Criminals started turning themselves in to police, instead of waiting for Kira to kill them where they were. I found those two things believable and interesting.
Overall, it was interesting to watch once. I wouldn’t have been as disappointed by it as I was if it didn’t have such great potential. It’s just that I like when horror explores human nature, and this was a let-down.