This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
BY BECCA JOHNSON OCTOBER 31, 2023
Directed by Emma Tammi and based on the much-loved survival horror game franchise of the same name, having been in the pipeline for quite a few years, Five Nights at Freddy's has finally hit our big and small screens. With a plethora of talent both in front of the camera including Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) and Matthew Lillard (Scream), and behind including producer Jason Blum (Get Out) and the team from Jim Henson's Creature Shop, many were excited to see the game come to life, especially younger audiences. Five Nights at Freddy's is a decent entry-level horror flick and the animatronics look fantastic, but it's story is an overstuffed mess that tries to pack in too much lore at once.
A troubled security guard begins working at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. During his first night on the job, he realizes that the night shift won't be so easy to get through. Pretty soon he will unveil what actually happened at Freddy's.
If there's one thing this Five Nights at Freddy's movie does right, is the atmosphere and aesthetic. As soon as the plot takes us to Freddy Fazbear's Pizza, it genuinely feels like stepping into the game, and is undeniably fun to experience. The eerie tone that the setting creates is perfect, and seeing our main character Mike enter the security office for the first time is bound to please fans. This feeling is heightened when we meet the gang – Freddy, Chica, Bonnie and Foxy. Their design is utterly flawless compared to the game, their characters terrifyingly accurate, and any time they are on screen it's pretty fun. The whole flick has an overall feeling of uneasiness that matches that of the game, and the world-building is immersive. It certainly looks the part, in character and setting.
Five Nights at Freddy's chooses to play it safe in scares, making it watchable for the young audience members that spend their free time watching YouTube play-throughs. It ensures to cut away from kills before any gore takes place, and a lot of the horror is implied rather than shown. Whilst this is good for that age group, the older generation that played the game as teenagers/adults will surely be disappointed. The amount of horror and scares is little to none, and it fails to scratch that itch well enough for seasoned spooky fans. There is one fun segment were a group of unlikeable teens meet their demise, but this is the only five minutes of the movie that has balls and decides to have fun. The main element of gameplay – the element that we were all looking for – is the jump scares. Unfortunately the movie omits this altogether, losing sight of what makes the game so fun and freaky to play. If young viewers are happy to watch the jump scares on YouTube and the game itself, the movie could've included a few decent ones.
Despite the team attempting to make the horror suitable for those starting out in the genre, the plot does the exact opposite. By choosing to focus on the main character Mike and his childhood trauma, it is likely to lose many young viewers. The themes and sub-plots are extremely heavy, including the likes of child abduction, grief and guilt, and kids/teens simply will not care, follow or get on board with this. The overall tone of the movie is actually quite depressing, and playing out for almost two hours, it even becomes boring in places. The storyline is very repetitive, as our lead character has a recurring dream that helps him figure out the story behind Freddy Fazbear and his friends – there's only so many times watchers of all ages can bare to see the same scene playing out. All of this begs the question – who is this movie actually for? Who will it appeal to?
The obvious answer to this – the fans. However, many may not be pleased with the fact it attempts to tackle too much in one go. There's likely enough lore in the first game or two to suffice one feature-length flick, but by the writers choosing to include lore from the first three or four games, things become convoluted very quickly. It doesn't always stay true to the story in the game, which may displease die hard fans of the source material, as it rushes to get to later sub-plots and doesn't give enough time, dedication or focus to the ones it tries to explore. Due to the fact too much is going on, the reveal in the third act doesn't exactly feel warranted as there's no hints or clues and it feels too random and forced in. There's plenty of Easter eggs, cameos and references that fans will certainly enjoy, but it's hard to say whether the jumbled plot or lack of focus will impress as much.
Five Nights at Freddy's is not a complete disaster, as Freddy and the gang look fantastic and the set design of the pizza restaurant is absolutely perfect. Game players will have a blast with the characters, the references and the lore that they manage to fit in, and young audiences will love that they're able to watch this flick without having nightmares. However, horror/movie fans in general are likely to be let down. It hits surprisingly low on the scare scale, the performances and line delivery from the talented cast are sadly wooden even from much-loved Hutcherson and Scream King Lillard, and the plot is dull, boring and messy.
For those that want to see animatronics going nuts and brutally killing people, 2021's Willy's Wonderland is likely a better pick. Five Night's at Freddy's would've been a more enjoyable watch if it honed in on what made it so popular originally, and didn't convolute itself so early on.