Death Note


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Death Note!


When a high school student discovers a strange notebook with the power to kill anyone whose name he writes in it, he’ll quickly discover that playing God isn’t everything he expected it to be in Death Note.

A SUCCESS OF SORTS

Death Note, from director Adam Wingard, is the latest live-action adaptation of the hit comic and animated TV from Japan. But for all the interesting and smart choices made in the adaptation process, there’s several more bad ones that make it into the final movie.

Now there are already plenty of arguments being made on every blog, vlog, podcast, and Twitter account for how the movie fails to directly convert the source material to screen. But like with every adaptation, especially of such dense, lengthy material, a direct translation would never work as a feature film. It’s not just impractical but madness to even attempt to do so. Instead, it’s about taking what truly mattered in the original and trying to make it work in a new format, style, and run time.

And in that regard, the movie does succeed. Mostly.

FAMILIARITY

Nat Wolff stars as Light Turner, a troubled but bright high school student who comes to hold the titular Death Note, meets the spirit of death who normally owns it, and then uses it to wage a one-man war on whoever he perceives as well-deserving of divine justice.

And along the way he meets, falls for, and partners with a lovely girl named Mia who shares his view on the world. And the two inevitably play a game of cat-and-mouse with the mysterious, super-genius detective known as L whose sole goal in life is to bring Light to justice.

The details of how this plays out–of the characters and their setting–are changed. That much is clear simply by watching the movie’s trailer. This is an American adaptation set in America with American actors.

But the overall movie does play out in a similar manner as the comic and TV series. If you’ve seen one, you know what to generally expect in the other.

FIXER-UPPER

In fact, the movie’s greatest success is in streamlining and simplifying the conflict for the better.

The Light seen in the comic and TV series is wholly unrelatable as a character. He’s a handsome, charming super-genius from a fairly well-off, prominent family. And he has no arc, as he’s already knee-deep in his own God complex. He’s a despicable, blood-thirsty narcissist with little regard for human life who only gets worse as the series drags on.

The Light in Wingard’s movie, however, is a more believable, troubled young man from a middle-class household. His use of the Death Note is more in line with what a bullied, angry but mostly good person would do. He sees himself as a hero righting the injustices of evil men.

That said, this Light isn’t perfect either. Because like the superheroes he idolizes, this Light suffers the lesson of what happens to those who don’t use their great power responsibly. Internal and external forces drive him to darker, more aggressive places. Especially as L grows closer to discovering his true identity.

And, thankfully, this war of morals and ethics between Light and L is not stretched on hour after hour to the point of losing any dramatic weight or purpose.

And it should also be made clear that the performances from both Lakeith Stanfield as L and Willem Dafoe’s vocal performance as Ryuk, the spirit of death constantly lurking in the shadows, are delightful. The rest of the cast fail to keep up, but are otherwise serviceable.

99 PROBLEMS

That all having been said, Wingard’s adaptation suffers from two glaring issues: pacing and staying true to the constantly shifting tone of the original–this serious but simultaneously not at all serious thriller.

Like the original, this movie approaches heavy, serious material with a number of wholly dead-serious scenes only for such things to be frequently ruined by some desire to be cool and stylish.

Now levity and humor are fine, and even necessary at times. But there’s a balance that has to be maintained. A decision has to be made where the movie is either a serious one with moments of levity…or a more stylish, fun movie with key moments of dramatic weight. Very rarely can you ride that fine line and succeed.

Death Note–both Wingard’s movie and the original series– suffers for thinking it can ride that line. I know there are fans of the original series, and there’s plenty there to enjoy. I’m not denying that or arguing against it. However, I stand by the idea that the series is enjoyed more by the ideas presented in it rather than the actual quality of the final product.

In fact, I would say this movie only magnifies the existing issues in the source material. The movie’s pacing is so quick and it’s material is so dense that there’s no time for anything to sink in. But at the same time, the characters are all about as “deep” as they’ve ever been presented. The drama is about as well-built. The tension is about as thick. That’s to say, of course, none of this is very good at all.

The point here is that in all iterations, the focus is always on showcasing certain scenes, certain beats or interactions. To relay some basic idea. But there’s little effort put into making any of it mean anything.

The movie–clocking in at about an hour and forty minutes–is far too eager to rush through its material to even consider slowing down long enough for anything to register. At the same time, the original comic and TV series both stretch the material painfully thin. The events in them are so drawn out– and in this very soap opera-like manner–that such things are diluted to the point of losing any impact.

TRUE-ISH

The movie is not very good. That much is clear. But it’s a fairly true-enough adaptation that’s also fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way. And it’s likely fans of the franchise are going to be the only ones worked up by it in either direction.

Most other people–who will greatly outnumber fans of the property–are either going to be mildly pleased by it or generally nonplussed by what is ultimately a benign, forgettable movie.

Could it have been done better? Yes. Would it have come at the cost of more cuts and changes? Yes. But this is true of the original as much as this adaptation.

And with all that in mind: despite its faults and the unfair demands and expectations of the franchise’s fans, those looking for a quick, stylish jaunt into the bizarre would do just fine electing to CHILL with Death Note.

Nightmares on Elm Street

A while back, Robert Englund did an interview in which he gave his own idea for a new Nightmare on Elm Street movie.

If I was in control of my own Nightmare on Elm Street movie, I have an idea I would have liked to see. I thought it would be great if the children of previous victims, or just kids who grew up hearing stories about Freddy Krueger, were each haunted by their own version of Freddy Krueger. Kids who grew up hearing stories about this Freddy Krueger guy and the awful things he did envisioned him in their own way, and that is the version that begins to haunt them. Some people may picture him as stout, another might envision him as tall & thin, another with a different hat, or a different sweater. He could have different gloves, or even a glove with small razor blades as referred to in the first movie. It would be neat to see very different interpretations of Freddy Krueger based on the child’s vision of who or what Freddy was to them. After all, each person’s subconscious would picture him in a totally different way.

After reading that, I was inspired to write my own version of a Nightmare on Elm Street reboot of sorts. Taking inspiration from the 2009 Friday the 13th remake, my idea is set in the modern day and accepts that the original movie happened as is rather than rehashing it like the failed 2010 reboot or ignoring it all together.

That said…

It’s been decades since the original Elm Street murders. Children have now discovered the legend of Fred Krueger on the internet. As his legend spreads, his power grows. Appearing in new shapes and forms as the imaginations of a whole new generation (and world) of victims run wild.

***

Little Monsters

We open at Springwood Middle School where an exhausted-looking, mousy young girl, JESSIE, finds herself tormented by her classmates. After her teachers and parents refuse to do anything about it–outright ignoring her weary appearance and body language–Jessie self-harms and contemplates suicide. But after a brief hallucination brought upon by her sleep-deprived state, she decides to deal with her bullies personally.

The next day, Jessie isolates and corners her bully, LISA, attacking and slitting the girl’s throat with a box cutter, carving the name “FREDDY” into the girl’s flesh.

Sometime later, Jessie returns to her classroom, covered in blood, much to the horror of her teacher and classmates.

Questions

NEIL GORDON is a blogger and single-father on bad terms with his ex-wife. When his ex-wife learns of his latest research into the recent string of teen murders and suicide, she threatens to take full custody of their son.

After their heated argument (one that ends with their son afraid to leave with his mother), Neil returns to his work and finds himself receiving a mysterious e-mail with a link to a small blog, which details a strange story of similar deaths in a small town in Ohio. And it’s here where Neil finds video footage that appears to show something that shouldn’t be possible: a young man man violently dying in his sleep as if by some unseen assailant.

The “murders” and “suicides” continue with another group of teens–a group of boys and girls streaming across the internet–only now it leaves a clear name behind: Fred Krueger.

As reports of teen murders/suicides spread rapidly, a young woman, TARYN, finds herself witness and almost victim of one such incident. When the police attempt to question her, they believe Taryn to be part of some growing online conspiracy.

That night as the hospital staff struggle to save and watch over the survivors of a recent assault, an ER nurse is killed by her worst nightmare come true.

Meanwhile, Neil receives a strange, unsettling call from a child’s voice–seemingly his son’s voice. The voice cries, scared that his mother will hurt him. When Neil rushes to his son’s aid, angrily knocking on the door, demanding to be let in, he finds himself getting placed under arrest by the police.

Elsewhere, more teens die in various ways. Plagued by their personal nightmares turned reality and fatal…including Neil’s family.

As Neil is left to deal with the ramifications of his family’s apparent murder/suicide, he’s suddenly in a strange world plagued by his worst fears. And a man–a strange beast unlike any we’ve seen before–hunts Neil down, killing him in his dreams…but Neil appears to have taken his own life in the waking world.

Cult of Personality

A girl, Kristen–the one who tipped off Neil earlier to the website–is normally a recluse, afraid of the outside world. And her fears of the outside world are upheld when she finds herself abducted when she’s forced to step outside her home. In an old boiler room, she’s forced to witness the death of another girl at the hands of an eclectic and strange man calling himself “Freddy”. The police ultimately come to her rescue only to find Kristen dead, burned alive…and evidence of the “Cult of Freddy”.

This…is God

Taryn visits her boyfriend only to discover that he is missing. She discovers a series of strange notes and images all over his bedroom and computer. She receives a call from an unknown number…Freddy’s coming. (Nine, ten…never sleep again.)

Taryn travels to Ohio, to a small, derelict house on Elm Street. The neighborhood is long dead, given to crime and disarray. She wanders into the home where she finds herself in a strange dream world filled with the souls of dead children, teens, and other victims. And it’s here where Freddy finally reveals himself in full.

Never Sleep Again

When the Officer (KINCAID) who discovered Kristen’s remains earlier–now exhausted and broken mentally, emotionally–attempts to drive home, he comes across the now-dead Kristen there in the middle of the road. He follows her, unsure how this is possible. As he does this–as he walks into what is revealed to be the Elm Street house–we hear his final discussion with a colleague, in which expresses his fears that perhaps they’ve all participated in awakening some great evil.

Halloween


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we’re taking a look at arguably the most controversial remake of a classic horror film: Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of Halloween!

(For clarification, the star-rating of this review strictly reflects the Director’s Cut and not the original theatrical release and that version’s subsequent home video release.)