Welcome to the Auralnauts Death Note recap, a horror movie about the dangers of giving a teen the power of life or death over everyone on the entire planet when his primary concern is impressing a girl. A few things to (death) note before we get into it. This is a recap of the live action Netflix adaptation. I had not watched a single episode of the anime or read the manga prior to watching the film, so this will in no way serve as a comparison to the source material. Finally, I will be using the D.E.N.N.I.S. system from It's Always Sunny as the basis for my analysis, as the characters themselves seem to rely heavily upon it.
"Hey, girl. Give me a chance and I'll fill you with Light. My name is Light, by the way. I'm talking about me."
Enter the Death Note. Storm clouds form overhead and the titular notebook falls out of the sky, landing next to Light. As he picks it up, it begins to rain a little bit. All of the students flee for their god damn lives as if this movie was taking place in Phoenix and not Seattle. During their desperate escape from the moisture, Light and one of the cheerleaders, Mia, run into a movie bully doing movie bully shit: robbing a dude who wears glasses. Light attempts to demonstrate value to Mia by standing up to the bully but gets knocked the hell out instead. He wakes up to a teacher shaking her head in disappointment. Not because of Light's lack of fighting prowess, which would have been hilarious, but because of all the for-profit homework that exploded out of his bag the moment he learned he couldn't take a punch. This earns him detention, where someone shows up and finally demonstrates some value.
Willem Dafoe's Ryuk shows up and promptly sticks to the shadows in order to conceal what I'm assuming is not the best CGI. I appreciate this move. Dafoe is great and Ryuk is a genuinely interesting character. It shows intelligence on the part of the filmmaker to know the strengths and weaknesses of presenting a physically exaggerated death god with the voice of Willem Dafoe. Ryuk reveals himself as the owner of Death Note and coaxes Light to put a name in it. As long as Light knows the face of the person whose name he's writing, they will die by way of whatever method he describes alongside their name. Wouldn't you know it, the bully from earlier is right outside the school pushing a girl to the ground! Listen, I've known some bullies in my time, and even they drew lines. They didn't tend to mess with girls, and they definitely took some breaks in between victims. However, if someone is going to have to die in order for Ryuk to demonstrate the value of Death Note, I suppose it's not worth looking too deeply into the motivations of this particular bully. He just pushed a girl to the ground. Decapitate that piece of shit!
Light chose the bully, and the bully died. He specified decapitation, and his head completely detonated. The book works, but Light is a little too stunned to know whether or not it will get him laid, so he goes home and has a typical teenage moment with his getting-too-old-for-this-shit cop dad. Some criminal killed Light's mom and inexplicably got away with it. Light blames his dad. I'm no expert, but it sounds like a pretty good opportunity to Death Note a bitch. Ryuk shows up again to go over some convoluted rules before the murderer's name goes in the book. Light's dad later walks into his room to give him the good news: Death Note is legit. Time to demonstrate some value. Light tells Mia the cheerleader about the Death Note almost the instant he sees her again, and before you know it he's proving what it can do. News footage confirms what we already know, and Mia is super into it. Like, uncomfortably into it. There are red flags flying up all over the place, but a horny teenager is not even remotely equipped to detect them.
E - Engage Physically:
After a brief talk about the possibilities of using the Death Note to eradicate all evil, Light decides that he has sufficiently demonstrated enough value to engage physically. They kiss, and now they are officially an item. They devise a plan to not only wipe out the world's most well known bad guys, but to create Kira, a persona responsible for it all. This serves multiple purposes by not only instilling hope in people around the world and fear in criminals, but to also get laid, bro! Step two complete! Mia is so turned on by the whole affair that she can't keep her hands off of Light. He seriously needs to start hanging out with divorced people. Anyone who's ever been in a relationship for the wrong reasons can tell you this isn't going to end well.
S - Separate Entirely:
With his life on the line, Light agrees to give up Death Note to Mia. He tells her to meet him at a Ferris wheel where he will turn over the book in exchange for his life. Ryuk shows up to enjoy the show, and there's a bunch of shenanigans involving L, the police and eventually a collapsing Ferris wheel. Both teens seemingly fall to their deaths with the Death Note falling into the water and the page containing Light's name into a barrel of fire. It is only later, when Light is unconscious at a hospital, that we learn what a true master of the D.E.N.N.I.S. system Light has become. Through some insanely far fetched Death Noting, Light was able to manipulate the actions leading up to his apparent death, including the involvement of other parties who were able to save him and return the Death Note before killing themselves. He knew that the only way to separate entirely from Mia was through superior Death Noting, and he emerged victorious.
Is Death Note a good example of the D.E.N.N.I.S. system in action? Absolutely. Once the filmmakers decided to make Light Turner a disciple of the system for his entire arc, they stuck to it and did not waver. He worked his way in, got what he wanted, and despite a few hiccups, was able to get out more or less intact. The downside to making your main character a user of the D.E.N.N.I.S. system is that no one will like him. Light sucks and I still can't tell if we were supposed to be rooting for him or not. Stanfield and Dafoe are the best though, and they made watching the movie completely worth it. Fun bonus: The trailer almost perfectly follows our formula for How to Make a Blockbuster Movie Trailer.
Yes that's right. The main character in this movie advances the plot by utilizing the predatory dating techniques developed by Dennis Reynolds, and I'm about to prove it.
D - Demonstrate Value:
At the start of the film, we are introduced to Light Turner, a slouching outcast who openly watches cheerleader practice while doing other peoples homework for profit. Intelligence is an incredibly valuable quality in the real world, but this is a movie, so this scene is obviously meant to show us that Light is a loser incapable of demonstrating value to the opposite sex.
Hint: It's not the punching bag named Light
This movie has some pretty great practical effects, by the way
Red flag: committing a series of murders then falling to the bed laughing like you just had movie sex
Dress for the job you want, not for the job that lets you see my face
N - Neglect Emotionally:
L has Light spooked, so he starts having second thoughts about this whole anonymous murder thing. Light is the real world version of the trash talking online gamer who may actually have to answer for his awful behavior. He starts to neglect his Death Noting, which neither Mia or Ryuk are thrilled about. To make matters worse Light's dad is on the case with L. Light's justification that he was only killing bad guys was flimsy, but now that the good guys are after him, even that's gone. He tries to convince Mia that everything is fine and he's in control, but it's pretty clear that the idea of not being able to Death Note people is just too much emotional neglect for her. She doesn't give a shit about the good guys, and she doesn't see why it has to be such a big deal to Death Note Light's dad. Shortly after, a bunch of Feds somehow get Death Noted without Light's knowledge and he quickly finds out what happens when you emotionally neglect a death god. Time to make an emergency landing in the next step of D.E.N.N.I.S.!
N - Nurturing Dependence:
This one is fairly simple. Mia is obviously hooked on being the co-conspirator of a worldwide death cult phenomena and she has no intention of ever stopping. Life is perfect! Mia gets to fulfill some previously unexplained desire to bring about death and destruction, and Light gets to benefit sexually from it. What could possibly go wrong? Lakeith Stanfield is what could go wrong, sucker. One of my favorite new actors arrives and not only positions himself as a potential threat to the young lovers, but steals the entire show out from under them. He plays L, a man chosen at a young age to be raised in a secret orphanage where they train people to become the world's greatest detectives. That origin is so anime it hurts, but Stanfield completely owns it and almost feels like a living anime character. Based on the murders, L has deduced one thing; the only connection between the victims of Kira are that their names and faces were widely available to the media. This gives L the perfect opportunity to dress like a ninja in a way that makes complete sense.
"I promise we'll Death Note just like old times"
I - Inspire Hope:
Light tries to convince both Mia and Ryuk that the only thing they need to do is get rid of L. Without him, there will be no one of his caliber left to figure out who is magically killing people all over the world. Light has already seen his face, so all they need is L's real name. As per the convoluted rules of the book outlined earlier, it's possible to control someone's actions for up to two days before the Death Note kills them. So Light puts L's liaison into the Death Note and dictates that he needs to find out L's real name before he dies. He has two days to figure out the location of a confidential orphanage, scour its abandoned depths and uncover its secrets. Boom, problem solved, hope inspired. Unfortunately, Mia and Ryuk are starting to see through the holes in the D.E.N.N.I.S. system and both of them conspire to get the book into Mia's hands. Mia throws down the gauntlet: she tore a page out of the Death Note, made those Feds kill themselves, and she just added Light's name. If he gives her the book, she'll burn the page. If Light hadn't been so blindly devoted to the D.E.N.N.I.S. system, he would have seen she was only into him for his Death Note. He should have ended it after D, but here we are at I with only one letter left to go.
When you think she's into you, but she's only into your Death Note