With the popularity that the Five Nights at Freddy’s video games have achieved in less than 10 years, it was all but certain that a film adaptation would come along. At the same time, the question of how to adapt a series of games that are at once laughably simple in execution while being brain-meltingly complex in story was one that would loom over any attempt. Having now seen the film from director Emma Tammi, it can be said the problem hasn't been solved.
Five Nights At Freddy's
Release Date: October 27, 2023
Directed By: Emma Tammi
Written By: Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback, Emma Tami
Starring: Josh Huchinson, Matthew Lillard, Mary Stuart Masterson
Rating: PG-13 for strong violent content, bloody images and language
Runtime: 110 minutes
In Five Nights At Freddy's, Mike (Josh Hutcherson) is a young man who can’t keep down a job. Haunted by memories of a younger brother who was kidnapped and never found, but sure he saw the face of the man who did it, Mike is now the caretaker of his autistic sister Abby (Piper Rubio). After losing his most recent job, Mike takes an unusual position as a night security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza – a Chuck E. Cheese-like establishment that hasn’t been open for years, but apparently still needs a night security guard for some reason.
While there, Mike meets a local beat cop, Vanessa (Elizabeth Lali), who has memories of visiting the pizza parlor as a child and likes to hang around the place a lot. He also discovers five mysterious children have joined his recurring dream about his brother’s abduction, and that there are five animatronic animals in the pizza parlor who require constant supervision.
Five Nights At Freddy’s starts out ok, but it goes downhill once Freddy actually appears.
The biggest hurdle to adapting Five Nights at Freddy’s the video game into Five Nights at Freddy’s the movie is that the games don’t have a protagonist to speak of. In the first (which is the source of the bulk of the movie's visuals and the core premise), you play as a nameless security guard, an empty avatar the player occupies. So the movie needed to create an actual character for the audience to follow along and care about.
As far as that is concerned, Five Nights at Freddy’s does ok. Mike and Abby are interesting enough characters that you’re willing to go along for the ride with; the unfortunate thing is that the movie must eventually introduce the iconic animatronics, and once it does that, the story takes a steep decline.
The core gimmick of the video game – “What if the animatronics at Chuck E. Cheese tried to kill you?” – works as well as it does because of the amusing contradiction that comes from “family fun pizza place” and “ruthless killing machines.” In the games, you don’t even see the killer animatronics much until the moment they get you, and because of the first-person perspective, you never really see what’s happening when you die.
Five Nights At Freddy’s is surprisingly short on the franchises trademark jump scares, or really scares of any kind.
It turns out, that if you were to actually see a giant fuzzy bear robot stalk a human being, it would look really silly. As a result, the “violent” and almost entirely bloodless horror moments in this PG-13 horror movie come across as more comic than carnage. It would be one thing if that were intentional, but everything else about the movie’s tone doesn’t indicate that’s the case. The franchises' trademark jump scares are surprisingly minimal, which may be a good thing for most movie audiences, but if there were any place such things would feel justified, it seems like this would be it.
The animatronics themselves, from a design perspective, are a highlight of the film. The Henson Creature Shop creations look exactly like the characters from the games brought into the real world, and since they are on screen a great deal more than their video game counterparts, that’s important. They almost become real characters themselves – though that causes its own issues as well.
The Five Nights at Freddy’s game was a surprise hit, and as such, the narrative of just what is going on was created as the story went along. It became something of a jumble, but clearly one that resonated with fans as they would dive into each game looking for its secrets to try and piece together the details of the story. The movie provided the franchise the chance to start fresh and tell a lean horror narrative that was no less fantastical or dark, but unfortunately, that's not what we got.
The plot makes just short of zero sense. Character decisions are baffling, and not just in the “person in a horror movie does something stupid” way– though there is certainly some of that. Instead, it's more “the character is acting against their own self-interest with zero explanation” sort of way. Motivations and attitudes, both human and animatronic, seem to shift from scene to scene depending on what the plot requires.
The plot in Five Nights At Freddy’s is needlessly contrived while needlessly pointing out its contrivances.
Reflecting on the plot, we could all go home after three nights at Freddy’s if one character simply reveals what they have always known. If there's a reason to hold this information back, we never get it. That’s bad enough, but the script – co-written by game creator Scott Cawthon alongside Seth Cuddeback and director Emma Tami – has Mike point this out, and nodding at the contrivance does not excuse it.
I've gotten this far without even mentioning that Mary Stuart Masterson is in the movie playing Mike and Abby's aunt, who is fighting Mike for custody of Abby. This is because the subplot is utterly inconsequential to the film. It succeeds in what appears to be its only real purpose – moving pieces around the board at a couple of key points in the plot – and nothing else. Masteron's character rivals only the singing robots in the competition for who is more cartoonish.
In the end, while I'm sure fans of Five Nights at Freddy's will appreciate seeing their favorite video game in live action, I have trouble seeing how anybody else would. Anybody looking for a true horror film will find it lacking, yet it's likely be too scary to make it a family-friendly Halloween movie. It would almost work as a dark comedy... if there was any indication the humor was intentional.