After eight years in the making, the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” film finally made it to the silver screen on Oct. 27. As someone who has been a fan since the game came out in 2014, I had been patiently waiting for this movie to hit the theaters. I knew it wasn’t going to be what I expected, but I did not expect it to be so underwhelming.
The movie follows Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), haunted by his past and struggling to support himself and his younger sister, Abby (Piper Rubio). Desperate to find a job, Schmidt’s career counselor (Matthew Lillard) offers him to work as a nighttime security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza Place, an abandoned family restaurant. Schmidt reluctantly agrees, unaware of the sinisterness that awaits him.
The opening credits start strong, with 8-bit clips reminiscent of ‘80s video games. Alongside the clips plays a fabulous soundtrack by composers The Newton Brothers, which is continually fitting throughout the film. Each track is atmospheric, and while not necessarily intense, creates a sense of unease. The score incorporates children’s vocals and sound effects from the game itself, making the soundtrack one of the stronger points of the movie. The same cannot be said for the plot.
“Five Nights at Freddy’s” feels more like a family drama than a horror movie. The plot’s focal point is Schmidt’s life, attempting to create a complex character but never succeeds.
The movie focuses most of its time on Schmidt’s obsession with his brother’s kidnapping and his strained relationship with his sister. Everything Schmidt-centric is relational — his dead brother, Abby, his Aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson), and even the local police officer, Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail). With no personality, a plot surrounding Schmidt is boring. If the film didn’t focus so much on his character, it would not have been as apparent, but the audience spends more time in Schmidt’s personal life than in Freddy’s Pizzeria.
For a movie called “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” most nights are spent with Schmidt being the world’s worst worker and drugging himself to sleep on the job. Instead of the classic “stay up from 12-6 a.m. to fight off possessed animatronics” motif the series is known for, the audience is offered dream sequences as a poor replacement. The sequences attempt to be unsettling and cryptic, but they only show children’s blurred faces and eyes leaking black liquid.
Those sequences are really the only horror offered in the film. The animatronics do kill people, but the intensity of this is severely toned down by cutting the scene once an animatronic attacks, which leaves the violence up to imagination. Freddy, the main animatronic, does chomp someone in half, but only the shadows of the action are shown to the audience. The only part of the film that could be considered scary is the Balloon Boy jumpscare, which is just a cheap shock.
The lore of the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” universe is incredibly vast. Spanning across almost 10 years worth of games, books and comics, the movie is forced to pick and choose what it wants to include in the plot. Understandably, packing 10 years of game history into a two-hour movie is impossible. Yet the so-called horror movie neglects the entire premise of the games, and the possessed animatronics are not even the main focus of the film. It is more like a murder mystery for kids — a supernatural Nancy Drew.
The film is not all that bad. In fact, it’s actually quite enjoyable for what it has to offer. The movie is essentially a watered-down amalgamation of the games, making it palatable to a larger audience at the cost of mediocrity. And for long-time FNAF lovers, there are a lot of easter eggs to enjoy. Youtubers who are associated with the game make cameos in the film, and hidden references to the games or theories appear throughout the movie — a nice touch from Scott Cawthon (creator of the franchise).
On the bright side, the set design of the restaurant is very well done, looking straight out of the 1980s. Additionally, the animatronics are superb, with full body puppets being created by The Jim Henson Company (best known for The Muppets franchise). The gang looks identical to the game — one of the few good things about the film.
Cawthon and director Emma Tammi bit off more than they could chew, making the film way less entertaining than it could’ve been. Overall, it’s a decent movie with unique set designs, an engaging soundtrack and incredible animatronics. Yet the characters and plot feel very two-dimensional, with unlikeable and dull characters. In the entire two-hour runtime, the movie fails to match the wow-factor that made the original game so popular. It offers entertaining moments, but never truly shines. Unfortunately, the horror is so lackluster that it cannot save this movie from being another weak addition to Cawthon’s franchise.