‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ Review: A Horrifyingly Robotic Video Game Adaptation
The Big Picture
- Five Nights at Freddy’s fails to offer any scares and instead focuses too much on explaining the lore of its world, resulting in a dull and uninteresting experience.
- The movie’s reliance on flashbacks and excessive exposition feels exhausting and demonstrates a lack of trust in its audience.
- The film fails to capture the terror and simplicity that made the game successful, resulting in a forgettable and banal horror flick.
Five Nights at Freddy’s
- Release Date
- October 27, 2023
- Emma Tammi
- Josh Hutcherson, Matthew Lillard, Elizabeth Lail, Mary Stuart Masterson
- 110 minutes
- Main Genre
Of all the elements that a video game adaptation like Five Nights at Freddy’s would decide to focus on, it is baffling why it insists so much on hammering home the lore of this world. While there is a vast timeline spanning both the games and novels to draw from, this is only worth exploring if the central conceit of the story being told is actually scary enough to get invested in. Yet over the course of its nearly two hours, there is next to nothing that manages to execute on this. Not only does this misfire of a film lack any sense of earned dread, it is comprehensively dull with only brief bursts of silliness. Everything just feels like a hollow skeleton that is as creaky as the ones that hold up its murderous animatronic mascots. Even when there are hints that it might be starting to get somewhere, it falls back into so incessantly explaining itself and its backstory that it feels more like homework than horror.
What Is ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ About?
This all begins with an into of a security guard working at the abandoned Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. Something is after him and it culminates in a scene that feels like it could initially be taking a page out of the recent Saw X only to kneecap its own impact in what feels like one of many PG-13 concessions. We then get to know the down-on-his-luck Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson) who is looking for a job after he got fired from his last gig working security at the mall for beating up a man he mistakenly thought was kidnapping a child. Limited on options, he seeks the help of the career counselor Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard) who informs him of this night shift working at the aforementioned Chuck E. Cheese-esque establishment. Though Mike initially turns it down, he eventually takes it so that he can keep custody of his sister Abby (Piper Rubio) and keep her away from her Aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) who wants her for self-serving reasons. Of course, once he starts working, something strange begins to happen each night that could prove dangerous to all who enter.
For those unfamiliar, the hook of the whole thing is that the animatronic mascots come to life and can tear apart any who they catch in their grasp. Why is this happening? Oh boy does the film really want to make sure to lay this all out for you. In repeated and tiresome flashbacks to a trauma from Mike’s past, we get all of the details spoonfed to us. Rather than feeling like it is illuminating something about his character or creating some more emotional depth, each of these moments just comes across as empty. Even if you weren’t familiar with the source material, it is obvious almost immediately what it is that the film is getting at with this.
We can easily piece together how this past is connected to the present, but the story also introduces the character of Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) to come into the picture to explain it even more. It is all oddly exhausting as it seems like the film lacks any sort of trust in its audience to get invested if it doesn’t bludgeon us over the head with all of this lore. Each and every time the experience grinds to a halt to do so, there is a sense that the film is going nowhere fast.
Who Is ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ Even For?
For those who may say that this is all in service of speaking to the gamers in the audience who want to see the familiar elements recreated on screen, it certainly doesn’t do a good job of it. Where the game found terror from the simplicity of being trapped in a single room and having to monitor cameras, the film never seems confident enough to even attempt to pull this off. It may be a tall order to replicate the visual language of a video game without coming across as hokey, but then you’ll have to find some way of crafting some fear of your own.
Director Emma Tammi has shown she can more than do this with her last feature The Wind, but this film does her no favors. The majority of this comes back to the way that it uses the original story by Scott Cawthon, who has a co-writing credit here, as a closed loop rather than a launching-off point. It all just feels like it is more invested in references to the game rather than standing on its own. For a good chunk of the film, multiple nights pass much of anything happening. It doesn’t do so to be a slow burn as much as it halfheartedly flickers.
There are moments where it feels like it could have become a more gleefully mean-spirited horror ride by really sinking its teeth into the story and acutally biting down, but it remains hamstrung by the rating as well as a lack of creativity. Though the finale provides what should have been an electrifying shock to its system, it is all both too little and too late. Even as there have been rather soulless horror films lacking in scares this month, Five Nights at Freddy’s takes the cake for being the most forgettable. The most lasting scene to be taken from the whole thing is a positively cringeworthy cameo that, just like Mike desperately hopes he’ll be able to forget his past, is one you’ll wish you too could wipe from your memory.
Five Nights at Freddy’s is in theaters and available to stream on Peacock in the U.S. starting October 26. Click here for showtimes near you.