Five Nights at Freddy's
Dir. Emma Tammi (2023)
A security guard at an old, abandoned arcade begins to believe that the animatronic animals within come alive at night.
I was never a big fan of the Five Nights at Freddy's video game series. I saw the value of an immersive horror mobile game that allowed its players to experience the horror in first-person view as they tried to escape from the evil robots that lurked in the darkness. The fact that there are nine games seems a tad excessive, but they've developed quite a fanbase that was extremely excited to learn that Blumhouse was developing a movie after their revered franchise. Despite not having played much of the series, I was intrigued by the film's concept and wanted to give it a shot, especially with it streaming free on Peacock. What I got was an uneven film with some creepy moments, a PG-13 movie that pushes those boundaries at times, and an interesting take on generational trauma that felt a bit more ham-handed than necessary.
Security guard Mike (Josh Hutcherson) is down-on-his-luck, getting fired from one job after the other as the trauma from seeing his brother abducted as a child overcomes his ability so sleep at night and function in normal society. He takes the overnight gig at Freddy Fazbear's, a dilapidated children's attraction similar to Chuck E. Cheese, which has been shut down for years after it was linked to the disappearance of several kids. Mike, who is responsible for his sister after the death of his parents, eventually learns that she is their next target, and he must work with police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) to stop Fazbear's from claiming another victim.
One of the hard things about a movie like this is that it explores the story of a franchise that has already told it. If you want to be surprised by the film, don't read the synopsis of the games, because it stays relatively true to the events of the series. I'll avoid spoilers here, but suffice to say the story is a compelling one, an examination of generational guilt and responsibility. I will also say that it's pretty fucking twisted, especially for a series of children's games. Knowing nothing about it going in, I didn't expect the real story to be anything like this, but it's pretty spot on. It's exceptionally dark, and the fact that they managed a PG-13 rating with a story like this is credit to Jason Blum's enormous pull in the industry.
The downside of the film is that it's not a particularly good film. This one feels like it was made especially for the fans, and there's nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, if you don't already have some stake in franchise, you likely won't enjoy too much of what's displayed on-screen. The violence is relatively bloodless, with most of the actual killing happening off-screen, but the animatronics, brought to life by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, are actually pretty rad. The story itself is a little strange, a fantastical concept that blends the supernatural with the disturbingly real, and while it isn't something I've seen done before, it's done well enough so that you at least get the gist.
But that is, of course, the problem with the film. There are so many plot holes, so many things that will need to be explored by future films, that it will feel like a waste if it doesn't get those films. The abduction aspect of the film, and the fates of those who were taken, is cringe-worthy and feels almost exploitative. It's scary, sure, but it also feels like it's just much more than it needs to be. Why can't the puppets be just puppets? Why do they have to be possessed by the spirits of dead children? How are they controlled the way that they are, and why would murdered children even want to do the things that they do in the film? Five Nights at Freddy's doesn't answer these questions, and while I hesitate to criticize too much due to the fact that it will probably receive at least two sequels (Matthew Lillard is signed on for a three-picture deal), there's simply not enough in this film to make the whole story come together.
While Five Nights at Freddy's doesn't feel like a particularly groundbreaking movie, fans of the series will likely love it. After all, it brings their beloved franchise to life, and there's nothing greater than that when you're a young horror fan. Despite the film's appeal to a younger audience, there is enough here to where parents won't get bored watching with the kids. The cinematography is decent, the writing is good-enough, and the actors do pretty well, too. I'll never have a problem with Matthew Lillard getting more work, and I suppose Josh Hutcherson has to do something after The Hunger Games. I just wonder when he'll stop taking projects that revolve around dead kids.
Who this movie is for: Five Nights at Freddy's fans, Video game movie lovers, Ski ball professionals
Bottom line: Five Nights at Freddy's hits the mark of being exactly what its gaming audience wanted but fails to do much else. It's an interesting concept, perhaps darker than much of its audience will expect, and it's competently shot and acted as well. It's one that the kids will love and the parents won't mind too much watching, and hopefully it'll bring horror to a whole new generation. Can't really ask for a whole lot more than that, I suppose.