Five Nights at Freddy’s is going to set some kind of world record for pissing off fans. Based on a popular video game series, the movie almost completely ignores the elements that made it a phenomenon. Many of those elements are technically represented yet have their impact removed via an idiotic plot that oddly fails to revolve around the popular characters at the core.
Josh Hutcherson plays Mike, a troubled guy left to care for younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio) following the death of their mother. His aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) is angling for custody of the girl, meaning Mike needs to get a job immediately. He visits a career counselor (Matthew Lillard) who hooks him up with an overnight security guard gig at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a Chuck E. Cheese-like family restaurant known for its stable of animatronic characters - a bear, a fox, a rabbit, a duck, and...a cupcake? It doesn’t take long for him to realize those figures are alive and bloodthirsty.
For those uninitiated with the game, it involves keeping track of Freddy and pals via security camera monitors so they can’t attack you. There are also missions in which you need to get from point A to point B without being spotted. I don’t know that a great film could be made from that idea, but the game is creepy, with good jump scares. Enough is there to at least inspire a reasonably tense chiller about a guy trying to survive a work shift inside an abandoned business with sinister-looking animatronic animals coming after him.
Five Nights at Freddy’s goes a different route. In a baffling decision, the movie is mostly about Mike’s trauma from having his brother abducted when they were kids. Scene after scene finds him having dreams in which he tries to get information from a group of ghost-children who keep popping up. The same ghost-children Abby has a weird psychic connection to. The same ones the local cop, Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), knows all about but fails to disclose the story of until everyone is in grave danger. None of this material is convincing, much less scary.
Only in the last twenty minutes does the film really start to resemble the source material, and even then it’s surprisingly wishy-washy in the approach to horror. Freddy and friends are nicely designed. They’re eerie looking and their lumbering movements feel threatening. Director Emma Tammi fails to capitalize on that as fully as possible. The characters get relatively limited screen time and have little to do besides stand there, make their eyes glow, and lurch forward. If you come to the movie expecting them to terrorize Mike for two hours, disappointment awaits.
Five Nights at Freddy’s strives to elevate a trashy-fun premise with an incongruous “deep” human story that ultimately goes nowhere except Boredom Town. A desire to obtain a PG-13 rating hurts it further. Whenever an act of violence is poised to occur, Tammi cuts away. How are we supposed to fear Freddy if we never see what he’s capable of? You can sense a bloody, R-rated version wanting to break out of the nonsense.
If you’re inclined, I suggest you play the home version. Pretend the movie is Freddy and do everything you can to avoid it.
out of four
Five Nights at Freddy's is rated PG-13 for strong violent content, bloody images, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.