You know the whole “days without incident” meme? Keep that in mind, but instead replace it with the days without poorly done video game adaptations. Over the last few years, it seems, Hollywood and its filmmakers finally broke through. From the Max series The Last of Us becoming a hit and garnering awards consideration, the astounding Netflix animated series Arcane seemingly coming out of nowhere, and even to two of gaming’s most iconic mascots—the plumber lad and the super fast blue dude—gaming fans have seen some of their dreams realized.
Unfortunately, you have to set the days without incident number back to zero, as Five Nights at Freddy’s is a throwback to the old days— without the “Good Ole’” part. It’s from the time when video game adaptations were of the same stenchful quality as a rotten banana rather than the delightful cornucopia we’ve seen of late.
The film, based on the mega-popular 2014 horror game franchise, has a fairly straightforward premise. We follow Mike Schmidt (played by Josh Hutcherson), a juvenile delinquent bouncing from job to job in order to provide for his younger sister Abby (played by Piper Rubio). After being ousted from his latest gig, he’s forced to take a position as a nighttime security guard at an abandoned family-centered entertainment joint, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. Naturally, things aren’t as they seem. The animatronics are not only alive in some way, but alive in the murderous way.
It’s a simple premise for a horror-thriller flick. However, the first issue that arises from Five Nights at Freddy’s is its insistence on not being just that: simple. The first third of the film is decent enough, with plenty of mystery surrounding exactly what’s going on. It has a couple of decent, albeit cliche, scares to accompany it. At first, Freddy’s feels giant. Mike’s loneliness heightens its intricacies. By the time the first third ends, it’s as if the film’s greatest strengths run out of juice. It’s possible to forgive films of this genre for having absurd premises or developments, but Five Nights at Freddy’s gives you so many so quickly that this haunted house comes to feels more like a haunted closet.
The video game series is cluttered with lore, sure, but it’s a shame the movie followed those footsteps of convoluted exposition so obediently. This rears its head not just in Freddy’s as a location, but in some of its characters. We mainly see that with Vanessa (played by Elizabeth Lail), a local police officer Mike becomes acquainted with. On top of the performance being overly mellow and the animatronics somehow feeling more animated than her, the character feels confusing and nonsensical. It’s almost as if no one told her what her character’s arc was until the final day of shooting.
The rest of the main performances, however, slightly redeem the film. Hutcherson’s character isn’t particularly compelling or tonally consistent. Still, he does a decent enough job selling some of the anxiety and fears that inhabit nearly every waking moment of his day. Rubio, on the other hand, does offer some wholesomeness. He delivers on the kind of humor that only kids could possibly pull off. And Matthew Lillard, a fan-favorite of the horror genre, is entertaining enough whenever he gets something to do. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen all that often.
Five Nights at Freddy’s seemingly tries to be a sort of starter horror movie for the generation that grew up on the games. Again, the first third of the film does show promise—and even some decent enough kills for the slasher-enthusiasts that may attend, even if they’re fairly predictable. And, most importantly—and perhaps most importantly for merchandising reasons—the animatronics that the game made so iconic look quite amazing, especially in action. There’s something here, to be sure, but it’s bogged down by everything else that transpires over the course of the last hour. Considering the movie is only around 90 minutes long, that’s a huge problem.
The haunted house from the animated Haunted House film feels more fleshed out than the lore and story beats here. Even if you’re able to forgive the many cliches, you’ll find yourself surprisingly bored the longer things go on, as if the film already let loose its bag of tricks.
Five Nights at Freddy’s, just like the abandoned center it focuses so heavily on, feels like a chasm of broken down leftovers. Long forgotten toys and entertainment of yesteryear, you’d think, could be a vehicle for nostalgia to take hold. Instead, it’s trapped in itself. Perhaps somewhere buried underneath the rubble was a great idea, but what actually made it to the surface is anything but.