Friday, 1 September 2017
Unlike the plodding superhero serials Netflix is famous for, Adam Wingard's Death Note adaptation really moves, quickly churning through several successive stages of dramatic possibility offered by a dusty old book that allows its owner to instantly kill anyone, anywhere in the world. After taking delivery of the tome and chatting with Willem Dafoe's cackling demon, Nat Wolff's Light Turner uses this power over life and death to settle a number of personal scores, beginning with a recent slight from an oversized grade repeater then progressing to the ignominious destruction of the man who killed Light's mother.
These early passages of Death Note delight thanks to their aggressive lack of moral dimension. Aside from a weak, barely communicated plea for Christian forgiveness from Light's father, revenge (and then cosmic capital punishment) are organised using the petty principles of the high school loner. The film's deaths are gooey and amusing, using the sudden, Mouse Trap style mini-disasters seen in Richard Donner's The Omen or the Final Destination series to smuggle in the film's otherwise alarming extermination conceit whilst also presenting the incidents as an opportunity for a well-constructed, luridly shot gag.
Rather than tread water constructing increasingly elaborate murders, Death Note uses Margaret Qualley's Mia and Lakeith Stanfield's L to expand the film's conceptual boundaries. Mia pushes Light to broaden his horizons by aggressively punishing every level of human criminality. The resulting carnage is pointedly sloppy, the aftermaths woven in and around the film's eradication montages include all manner of bystanders, be they bunny girl sex workers or just hapless commuters. The couple are drunk on their power, delighting in not so much the mission but the way in which their actions are understood as those of a powerful, vengeful God.
Death Note uses these images of overseas destruction to draw a nagging visual connection between the impersonal violence of America's drone program and these two vengeful high-schoolers. Both are evidence of a stunning application of force coupled with spotty, perhaps even disinterested on-ground intelligence. Mia, in particular, relishes the slaughter, viewing it as something on-going and sustainable rather than Light's short but explosive fix. Stanfield's L is even better again, the actor deftly combining a combative physical fluidity with the pained, knowing expression of someone magnificent confronting the disappointingly messy patterns of his intellectual inferiors.