A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Death Note is an American-made horror film based on a popular Japanese comic book series (manga). It tells the supernatural tale of a misfit high school student, struggling over his mom's violent death, who finds that he has the stealth power to wreak vengeance on criminals or miscreants who've gone unpunished. He's more than willing to wield that power ... until he becomes the pursued himself. The film is filled with graphically violent, bloody scenes -- including decapitation, multiple characters plunging to their death, impalement, and stacks of dead bodies -- as well as lengthy chases, fistfights, brutal bullying, and the frequent, scary presence of a malevolent, ugly "demon god." Occasional language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "bitch." The hero's involvement with a girl, who becomes his enthusiastic partner-in-crime, leads to them kissing and undressing, implying a sexual relationship.
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What's the story?
Light Turner (Nat Wolff), still struggling after the violent death of his mom in DEATH NOTE, is an outlier and target of bullies in his Seattle high school. On a stormy day, a weathered leather book falls from the sky. Light picks it up, takes a long look at its tattered pages and eerie title, and then realizes that the book is a terrifying source of magic. The first of many rules listed declares that the present holder of the book has the capacity to kill. He or she must only write down a name, picture the intended target, and then order a death, by any means chosen. Disbelieving, Light looks out the window of his school classroom, sees a despicable bully with a victim in his grasp, and tests the book's decree. What happens next sets Light on an ultimate mission of vengeance. He will rid the world of evil. When the power he exerts ultimately becomes corrupted by both supernatural demon Ryuk (voiced by Willem Dafoe), whom only Light can see, and his one human ally, classmate Mia (Margaret Qualley), only the mysterious "L" (Lakeith Stanfield), a detective of unsurpassable skills, can stop the mayhem.
Is it any good?
Aiming for suspense, shock, and revulsion, the film succeeds at some level, but fares less well with its ludicrous premise, dizzying array of "rules" of the game, and giant leaps of logic. Adam Wingard, fitfully successful at directing the macabre, tries to Americanize a popular, dark Japanese franchise (movies, anime series, video games, merchandise). While his bold, flashy style is intact, the overall outcome is nothing more than brutal, dense absurdity. Even messages about power corrupting otherwise decent people, and vigilantism as a negative force, can't raise Death Note from its unenviable position as a bottom feeder. Not recommended.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Death Note. What were the emotions the filmmakers were trying to elicit from audiences with such brutal images? How can on-screen violence impact kids?
Manga is a specific type of Japanese comic book or graphic novel. Find out more about this centuries-old art form. How does it differ from anime?
Why do you think films about revenge and vigilante justice appeal to audiences? Do you ever find yourself cheering when a villain gets his comeuppance? Is it ever OK to right a wrong using violence? What happens to a society that sanctions such behavior?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.