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Five Nights At Freddy’s (Film Review)

3 min read

This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

Single-handedly designed by Scott Cawthon in 2014, Five Nights at Freddy's was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment in the cultural zeitgeist – a video game that went insanely viral because of its straightforward mechanics and well-employed jump scares. Almost a decade on, several sequels, spin-offs and a dedicated cult following later, the Five Nights lore now runs deep and makes it the ideal stomping ground for rich, cinematic interpretation.

2023 has shown great strength for video game adaptations too in between the critical and commercial successes of HBO's The Last of Us, Sony's Gran Turismo, and Illumination's billion-dollar hit in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. However, where those projects catered to fans and newbies alike, Five Nights' biggest mistake is its complete and utter disregard for the die-hard fans of the video game property. The result is woefully generic.

Despite being co-written by Cawthon himself (and director Emma Tammi), the script abandons the game's simple point-and-click roots for an overwrought narrative that tries to delve into the fan-favourite lore but with underbaked and frustrating results. For the uninitiated, Freddy Fazbear's was a once-beloved pizzeria. It has been shut down since but the family still like to keep it maintained so they hire drifter Mike (Josh Hutcherson) as the security detail. But the animatronic mascots come to life after dark and haunt the establishment.

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It's a great B-movie concept and a good Five Nights retelling would probably spend most of its runtime in the decrepit pizza joint with the animatronics terrorising Mike. But this film is, instead, more focused on his dysfunctional family dynamic; he's caretaker for his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio) despite his aunt (Mary Stuart Matheson) fighting for custody. Mike is also plagued by the disappearance of his brother from when they were kids, replaying the events over and over again in the hopes he might find something pointing to his whereabouts. While this is a faithful-ish narrative, the games bake these details into newspaper clippings and mini-games while Cawthorn and Tammi's mawkish script shoves it down our throats. It's also nonsensical with ‘reveals' that make no sense and plot threads that never amount to anything.

But Five Nights is about Freddy Fazbear himself and his cohort of possessed peers: Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy. The animatronic work is admittedly impressive and the practicality adds a tangibility to the proceedings. They're just not scary though, often found to be making jokes or seen bonding with Abby (her connection to the supernatural is never once explored) and when they do actually kill, it's quick and bloodless. This minimalism could work if Tammi cultivated a sense of dread or tension throughout but the direction is flat and devoid of any genuine thrills or chills. It's all a bit diluted. For any old horror film, it's perhaps easier to forgive these shortcomings but if you're going to do Five Nights at Freddy's then it should at least be a somewhat discernible adaptation. This is five nights too many.

Five Nights at Freddy's is now out in UK cinemas