As someone who hasn’t played the Five Nights at Freddy’s video game series and, by extension, has no idea of the attached lore, I can’t comment on how faithful Emma Tammi‘s supernatural horror(ish) film truly is. I have to hope that the purists will enjoy themselves with what is put forward, but as a casual viewer – one who went in blind to the proceedings – five nights was five too many at this particular establishment.
With a story and script co-created with Scott Cawthon, the developer of the video game series, one has to assume what’s put forward in Tammi’s film lends itself a familiarity to the game play, where the titular Freddy’s is Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, an abandoned family entertainment centre that sits unsettlingly dormant following its closure off the back of the establishment’s involvement in the death of a number of children. It’s a creepy premise, and when you align that with a series of animatronic creatures that come alive after midnight each night and terrorise the halls of the restaurant, you have the potential for a fun, possibly unnerving horror effort that could sit beside the likes of fellow Blumhouse creation M3GAN as a campy, self-aware genre treat.
Sadly, it’s not the case with Five Nights at Freddy’s, a film that’s bonkers premise is at odds with a personality that takes itself far too seriously. There are moments where the script – co-written by Cawthon, Tammi and Seth Cuddeback – delights in how ridiculous the imagery of demonic animatronics eating people is (one particular chomp proving the film’s most memorable, and doing the most with a tragically watered down rating), but, for the most part, it’s a tonally jarring “horror” film that isn’t quite sure which mentality it wants to adhere to. I’m all for the eating of villainous archetypes, but the writing collective introduce a more serious plotline that feels as if it belongs in another film entirely.
Said plot revolves around Mike (Josh Hutcherson), a troubled young man who can’t escape the guilt of failing to protect his brother from an abductor a decade prior, and is on a seeming endless turntable of minimum wage jobs. Needing to care for his younger sister, Abby (Piper Rubio), and trying to fend off the icy interference of his bitchy aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson) from claiming custody, Mike is thrown a bone by his sketchy career counsellor (Matthew Lillard) and employed as the night security guard at Freddy’s. The pay’s bad and the hours are worse, but a job is a job, and despite the eerie atmosphere of his surroundings, he accepts.
This gets Mike in the door and amongst the fray of potential after-midnight carnage, but the memories of his missing brother haunts him, and he’s been inducing sleep so he can revisit the very moment the abduction took place to hopefully uncover a locked memory or clue as to how to find the person responsible. It’s a stretch as far as plausibility goes – yes, even in a movie about demonic animatronics – but its dark, sad mentality takes away from the fun the film should be embracing. There’s a whole other film there devoted to Mike’s mission to find clues locked away in his slumber, one that could be worth the visit, but it doesn’t feel like it gels with the world Cawthon has created.
The world created is demented, and the creations themselves – Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie, Chica and Foxy the Pirate – are beautiful in all their unearthly glory; what Robert Bennett has forged here is truly grand and deserving of a much better film. It’s a shame that the moments of brutality that each character delight in are too brief for the overall (and overstayed) 109 minutes, with the horror temperament of the film proving a welcome reprieve from the repetitive cycle of Mike slipping further into his dreams each night to uncover the next missing piece of his brother’s disappearance.
Again, as someone who is uninitiated in the lore of Freddy’s I can only comment on the narrative structure for the film put forth, and the campy possibilities were overthrown by a far more serious, psychological tale that didn’t evoke the frightful fun the premise alluded to. Tonally jarring, lacking a severe sense of humour, and a film that feels like a victim to its lowered classification, Five Nights at Freddy’s may be more than enough for purists, but, for this casual observer, I was ready to dash before the first night was done.
TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Five Nights at Freddy’s is now screening in Australian theatres. It will be released in the United States simultaneously in theatres and on Peacock on October 27th, 2023.