The English-language remake comes from Adam Wingard who has been a name on the rise in the horror genre in recent years. Wingard first appeared with the horror film Home Sick (2007) and then gained festival acclaim with the hallucinatory Pop Skull (2007), followed by the serial killer film A Horrible Way to Die (2010) and the non-genre likes of What Fun Were Having (2011) and Autoerotic (2011) before gaining increasingly wider recognition with the likes of Youre Next (2011), The Guest (2014) and the sequel Blair Witch (2016). Wingard has also directed segments of the anthologies The ABCs of Death (2012), V/H/S (2012) and V/H/S/2 (2013).
Death Note joins a great many Japanese and Asian horror films that have been given English-language remakes since the success of The Ring (2002). Others include The Grudge (2004), Dark Water (2005), Pulse (2006), The Echo (2008), The Eye (2008), Mirrors (2008), One Missed Call (2008), Shutter (2008), Dont Look Up (2009), Possession (2009), The Uninvited (2009), Apartment 1303 3D (2012) and 13 Sins (2014). Indeed, producer Roy Lee and his Vertigo Entertainment production company have come to specialise in buying up Asian horror properties for the express purpose of generating English-language remakes and are behind Death Note and most of these others.
Adam Wingard has Americanised the first Death Note film. In doing so, he has streamlined the plot somewhat. There is not as much of the battle of wits between Light and L as there was in the first film (and in particular the second film). The other thing given more prominence here is Lights girlfriend Mia who is a very different character to his girlfriend Misa in the Japanese-language film. Here she has knowledge of the Death Note book and joins Light in selecting their targets, while the latter third of the film features a conflict between the two of them when she starts using the book on her own after he urges caution under the eye of surveillance by L, a plotting twist that did not exist in the original. Lakeith Stanfields performance as L mimics but is not as supremely weird as Kenichi Matsumaya was in the original. Indeed, in the second half, L is watered down to being nothing more than an obsessed detective on the trail of his target.
Prior to release, Death Note became subject to the Politically Correct buzzword of the moment whitewashing (rewriting of Asian source material or non-Caucasian characters with white face), something that was also heavily levelled against the recent English-language remake of Ghost in the Shell (2017). (It should also be noted that these same accusations have been entirely absent when it came to any of the other abovementioned English-language remakes of Asian horror properties). Most of the other abovementioned English-language remakes are fairly ho-hum and inferior to their originals. I didnt dislike Death Note as much. It is passable in its own right, not as effective as the original but workable. Far more so than Shusuke Kaneko did in the original, Adam Wingard places a focus on the victims undergoing novelty deaths Jack Ettlinger experiencing a bizarre gory decapitation, a hostage-taker being creamed by an armoured SWAT truck, FBI agents jumping off a roof en masse.