Written by: Matt Patti | October 26th, 2023
Five Nights at Freddy’s (Emma Tammi, 2023) 2 out of 4 stars.
Yet another popular video-game franchise heads to the big screen with director Emma Tammi’s Five Nights at Freddy’s. The game of the same name involves an overnight security guard working at an abandoned Chuck-E-Cheese-style restaurant and family-fun center. The guard soon finds that the old animatronics that would play music as the children ate their pizza are still in working condition and, worse, are actually quite deadly.
In the film, the plot is similar, though very much broadened. We follow Mike (Josh Hutcherson, Across the River and Into the Trees) a young adult who finds work as a security guard trying to support himself and his young sister, Abby (Piper Rubio, Holly & Ivy). After getting fired from a job at the mall, he searches for new work and comes across an opportunity to work overnight at the long-abandoned Freddy Fazbear’s pizza place.
His objective is simple, or seems to be: keep anyone from getting inside. Outside of a few bizarre dreams Mike experiences when he falls asleep on the job, the first few nights seem to go by normally. However, when Mike is forced to take Abby to work with him one night, the old animatronics seem to come alive and take a special interest in Abby.
As someone who has never played the game, the basic knowledge of its premise was all I knew going into the feature adaptation, so I didn’t have many expectations. I figured it would primarily focus on a security guard fighting dangerous animatronics, but that’s only a small part of the story. Instead, Tammi (The Wind) focuses most of her efforts on the human characters, their interpersonal dynamics, and the trauma that has plagued them leading up to this point.
Tammi takes her time introducing characters and fleshing them out just enough so that the viewer develops empathy. A major plot point in the film is a tragic incident in Mike’s past that still gives him nightmares. Mike also struggles with his aunt in a custody battle for his sister. So, there is much more that the film has to offer than one might think. It’s not just a random security guard in a 2-hour battle with homicidal animatronics, which is a pleasant surprise.
However, that being said, Five Nights at Freddy’s actually could use far more action. For hinging so much on the idea of murderous mascots, they have much less screen time than you might imagine. Also, when they are on screen, they aren’t doing very much, outside of two specific scenes.
Furthermore, the film is not scary at all, with very little in terms of tension or terrifying sequences. There are a few scenes that might make the uninitiated uneasy, but most of the violence and bloodshed takes place offscreen, sadly. There is a repetitive jump-scare that might catch some viewers off guard but by the end is overused.
In addition to its deficiency in action and horror, the filmmakers struggle with tying up loose ends, as some things just don’t add up. Some of this revolves around pacing issues, but also explanations for some events in the film that are very far-fetched and don’t make logical sense. But, then again, we are talking about a film that has conscious, killer animatronics here. There is also a third-act twist which is intriguing but rushed, and one that can be seen coming from a mile away.
Overall, Five Nights at Freddy’s is surprisingly potent in unexpected areas, but shockingly lacking in more important aspects. Anyone buying a ticket who expects a suspense-filled, creepy horror flick and some quality combat scenes will most definitely be disappointed. The filmmakers go all in on the characters’ backstories and flesh them out fully, for better and for worse.
Fans of the game may find greater enjoyment in the film. In the cinema in which I viewed the movie, there were gasps and cheers which I did not comprehend, but I’m sure they were in reference to a beloved character or favorite moment. To me, though—a mere dilettante—it is an unexpectedly good family drama but extremely lacking horror film.