Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023, dir. Emma Tammi)

by | Oct 25, 2023

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 109 mins

UK Distributor: Universal Pictures

UK Release Date: 25 October 2023

WHO’S IN FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S?

Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Lail, Piper Rubio, Matthew Lillard, Kat Conner Sterling, Mary Stuart Masterson, Lucas Grant, Jessica Blackmore, Cory DeVantè Williams

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Emma Tammi (director, writer), Scott Cawthon (writer, producer), Seth Cuddeback (writer), Jason Blum (producer), The Newton Brothers (composers), Lyn Moncrief (cinematographer), William Paley and Andrew Wesman (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A security guard (Hutcherson) encounters a deadly gang of animatronics at a rundown restaurant…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S?

Two years ago, when the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie was still very much stuck in development hell, a blatant knock-off titled Willy’s Wonderland – which had pretty much the same premise as the popular video game series, except with rote slasher conventions and a mute Nicolas Cage – laid the foundations for what an actual Five Nights at Freddy’s movie could look like, for better or worse (mostly worse, because it was a pretty bad movie). I remember thinking at the time that no matter how the eventual film would turn out, it would surely have to be a step up from Willy’s Wonderland, which showed exactly how a bad version of this concept could end up looking.

Now that Five Nights at Freddy’s is finally here, under the direction of Emma Tammi (who also co-wrote the script with Scott Cawthorn and Seth Cuddeback), I would like to offer a sincere apology to Willy’s Wonderland: you might be a rubbish movie, but I didn’t realise that in terms of delivering the vicious, scary and bloodthirsty movie many of us were expecting and praying for here, you were actually closer to succeeding than the toothless and aggressively non-scary official version that we got.

In the film, Josh Hutcherson plays Mike, a young man who’s caring for his younger sister Abbie (Piper Rubio) while still being haunted by the childhood abduction of his brother Garrett (Lucas Grant). Struggling to find work, and faced with a custody battle by his pantomime-villain of an evil aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson), Mike is offered a seemingly straightforward gig by his career counsellor Steve (Matthew Lillard): he will serve as a security guard for an abandoned family restaurant called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, which is home to some state-of-the-art animatronics disguised as the restaurant’s adorable anthropomorphic mascots. Mike accepts the gig – of course he does, otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie – and begins to learn more about the restaurant’s dark past from friendly police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), not to mention the fact that the animatronics tend to come to life and kill anyone they deem to be a threat.

Before I jump right into why Five Nights at Freddy’s is an utter disaster of a movie, I feel it is fair to start out with one or two positive things I can say about it. Based on what little I know about the games (which, for the record, I have never played), this movie seems to have faithfully captured a lot of the visuals that people often tend to remember from them. The animatronics, for instance, look near-identical to how they are in the games, and thanks to some rather nifty practical effects created by The Jim Henson Company, they are brought to life quite remarkably in ways that will make fans quite satisfied. They are by far and away the best part of the movie, mostly because they’re actually there instead of just being lifeless CG monstrosities, which given that it is Blumhouse making this movie, they probably didn’t have the budget for it anyway. 

Sadly, that’s all the good I can depart for Five Nights at Freddy’s, which frequently underutilises its own potential by opting for the safest, least offensive version possible for the concept of killer family-friendly animatronics. There are no scares in this movie, and I’m not being hyperbolic for it seriously never feels like the viewer is supposed to be genuinely scared, with any moment that is intended to get a scream being heavily foreshadowed as the film holds your hand for comfort at all times. A profound lack of atmosphere denies any real suspension to emerge, the supposedly creepy moments are more unintentionally funny than they are chilling, and there isn’t even that much violence to appreciate, since most of it is done off-camera, and even then, there’s barely any blood to show for it.

As condescending as it may sound, it’s as though this movie was made purely for children, like it’s intended to be some kind of gateway horror for young kids to watch before they move onto heavier and far scarier stuff. You do get a sense of that in other aspects of the movie, with a string of self-conscious performances that often feel like you’re watching a low-rent Disney Channel movie, while certain soundtrack choices, lines of dialogue (this is the kind of movie where adults say things like “heck” in situations where that should not be the first word on their minds) and even plot strands about playful animatronics coming to life all seeming like things you’d find in a typical Halloween film for the family. That’s all well and good if Five Nights at Freddy’s was actually made for families, which might have given it an edge as with 80s classics like Gremlins or Return to Oz, but unfortunately it wasn’t: it was clearly made for older viewers but then blatantly cut down so that younger audiences can enjoy it more than the adults it was clearly meant to be seen by.

Beyond the fact that it isn’t scary enough for anyone’s tastes, Five Nights at Freddy’s is just a dull film to watch. Since there aren’t any scares to latch onto, while the characters and their actors’ performances are too bland to become interested in, the film quickly falls into a lull since you also realise that the cinematography isn’t especially appealing to look at, with most things shot in the dark which, instead of eliciting genuine terror, makes things hard to actually see (again, so that the younger target audience can be spared the violence, because God forbid a horror movie becoming gruesome). The only thing holding your attention is the impressive level of practical effects work, but there’s only so much that you can be impressed by all the stuff that’s done in-camera, and just as quickly you’re back to noticing how empty the rest of the film surrounding these faithful designs is.

I don’t imagine that most people will be too thrilled by this movie, at least going by the reaction in my screening, which was near-packed with mostly young teens (and maybe a few under-15s who managed to sneak in) who all stayed completely silent throughout the whole thing, even during the parts that were designed to make kids scream. That alone should tell you that when it comes to making a satisfying Five Nights at Freddy’s movie, it is Willy’s Wonderland that is somehow still the one to beat.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Five Nights at Freddy’s is a scare-free and painfully toothless adaptation of the popular horror video game series, often feeling like it was made more for children than actual adults, though even kids will be bored by this uneventful ride.

One out of five stars

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