For the film adaptation of the video game “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” the disappointing critic score of 30% on Rotten Tomatoes paints a much bleaker picture than Rotten Tomatoes’ optimistic audience score of 88%. The film’s director Emma Tammi must tailor her cinematic rendition of “Five Nights at Freddy’s” to the constraints of a PG-13 rating, and she uses a mix of live-action and animated voice acting to craft a chilling yet oftentimes light-hearted mystery tale masquerading as a horror film. Easter eggs and references to Scott Cawthon’s video game franchise, however, provide moments of delight to long-time fans without impeding the plot. Overall, while critics may bemoan the confusing story and the lack of successful horror beats, fans can rejoice in having their wish for a successful movie adaptation fulfilled.
“Five Nights at Freddy’s” begins with Mike Schmidt (played by Josh Hutcherson) accepting a position as a night guard for the abandoned restaurant Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria from his suspicious career counselor (played by Matthew Lillard). Schmidt takes the job to fend off his estranged aunt Jan (played by Mary Stuart Masterson), who threatens to take custody of his little sister Abby Schmidt (played by Piper Rubio) in order to reap the benefits of monthly custody payments.
During his first shift, Mike falls asleep and dreams about an incident from his childhood in which a strange man kidnapped his younger brother Garrett. In this dream, Mike also encounters five children who witnessed the kidnapping but who run away from him as he approaches them. Mike, who never got over the loss of his brother, believes that these dreams hold the key to solving the mystery of his brother’s disappearance and vows to recreate this dream until he finds out the truth about what happened to his brother.
On his second night, Mike encounters Vanessa (played by Elizabeth Lail), a police officer on a patrol that happens to include the decrepit pizzeria. Vanessa offers him a wealth of knowledge on the restaurant, including the animatronics Freddy, Bonnie, Chica and Foxy and why the location shut down. That is, five children were murdered at the location, and their bodies and their killer were never found. The movie continues with many revelations into the mystery of Garrett’s disappearance interspersed with light horror elements and surprisingly effective comedic quips.
All in all, the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” film contains a convoluted and confusing narrative that leaves more questions than answers. With a runtime of 109 minutes, the film feels dense with information and overwhelms any viewer who gets lost in the numerous small details of the plot. However, the movie remains faithful to its source material in this way as it combines plot elements from many different entries in the video game franchise.
Tammi does also fail to elicit an effective feeling of horror in the film and leans more into telling a mystery tale. The animatronics prove to be ineffective as the main source of horror once Abby befriends them. Although this relationship makes sense since children haunt these lifeless husks, their friendship leads to a few scenes where the animatronics act as comic relief, effectively ruining any sense of foreboding these creatures had established. Aside from Lillard and Hutcherson, the performances in the film are largely forgettable.
The film badly yearns for an R-rating since whatever gory scenes it contains lose effectiveness because of the restraint necessary to maintain a PG-13 rating. Plus, torture devices hold less weight in the film when the extent of their torture cannot be fully realized on the screen and are relegated to offscreen screams. Really, the most memorable horror scene in the film occurs when a babysitter gets chomped in half during a raid of the restaurant. The sheer brutality of the event transcends the limits placed by the PG-13 rating and shows the potential for bloody horror that is not generally present in this film.
Still, avid “Five Nights at Freddy’s” fans will rejoice when they experience the fan service present in the film. The popularity of the video game franchise soared when certain internet personalities created content surrounding the game, and the film treated the audience to cameos of some of the most well-known of these “Five Nights at Freddy’s” content creators. YouTubers MatPat and CoryxKenshin have memorable cameos that feed the nostalgia of lifelong fans of the franchise. The 8-bit animated opening credit scene plays into this sense of nostalgia and provides an avenue for numerous Easter eggs and other references to make an appearance in the film.
Overall, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” provides a love letter to the fans of the titular video game franchise while providing a solid viewing experience to those less familiar with the series. With the box office success surrounding the movie as well as its growing cult status, a sequel seems inevitable. A sequel should maintain this dedication to creating a faithful adaptation while improving on aspects of the film that critics seem to loathe.