To say that Scott Cawthon’s biggest franchise needed a movie is an understatement. Since the original game’s release, Five Nights at Freddy’s has satiated fans with an intricately written history that only the most investigative theorists could piece together. Nine years later, Scott Cawthon and Blumhouse have come together to finally bring fantasy and fun to life, though it revels in that a bit too much.
Blumhouse’s Five Nights at Freddy’s follows Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), a troubled mall guard who takes care of his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio), as he decides to take a job at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. However, he’s also set on his own personal mission to find his brother’s kidnapper. All of this leads Mike to discover the supernatural anomalies that hide within the establishment’s walls as Mike hopes to survive the nights ahead.
Five Night at Freddy’s Rocks For Hardcore Fans (and Readers)
Rather than being a full-on Donnie Darko-like film, Five Nights at Freddy’s makes several callbacks to things and ideas throughout the franchise’s history. More importantly, the film loves to put its iconic animatronics, perfectly replicated by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, at the forefront with their combined unsettling presence where need be.
However, if you’re expecting Freddy, Bonnie, Chica, or Foxy to launch at you from a first-person perspective, don’t expect much. The animatronics, for the most part, are a lingering supernatural force that the human characters don’t expect or go up against. Surprisingly, the Cupcake (yes, the Cupcake) has more action than the animatronics themselves.
When they do make a jumpscare (if you should call it that), the film builds the moment so tightly, but the camera strays away at its climax, leaving some blood trails to satiate those wanting something more grisly. Luckily, the film makes up for this with family-friendly drops of gore at specific moments: be prepared for one nasty chomp.
For most fans involved with the series, you’d be able to spot a lot of easter eggs both from the games and even from the series’ novels. Hardcore fans may pick up on a quote from Old Man Consequences from FNaF World and readers may even see a close replica of Ella from Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes. They might even pick up a reference to an urban legend from the first game!
The Sweet and Sinister Performances of Five Nights at Freddy’s
As far as performances go, the cast of Five Nights at Freddy’s does a good job of actively making their characters feel somewhat realistic, even if the film’s writing does hold back on their potential to accomplish much more with their characters.
Josh Hutcherson’s Mike may be a bit of a grouchy protagonist at first, but as the film continues, he has these heartfelt moments with Piper Rubio’s Abby that present their charming chemistry as ‘big brother and little sister.’ The best scenes come from Mike’s dreams involving his brother’s kidnapping, where Hutcherson completely lets all his fear and anger out for good. Moreover, Elizabeth Lail‘s Vanessa does have her sweeter scenes with Hutcherson’s Mike with a pleasant personality, but her character bears some weird dialog choices that can either feel a bit extreme or awkward.
Perhaps the most underutilized actor, Matthew Lillard, has one of the film’s most frightening performances as “Steve Raglan” and series antagonist William Afton, meshing his sinister roles from Scream 2 and Thirteen Ghosts. While he doesn’t have the same gruffness as PJ Heywood’s Afton, he puts his own unique twist, making Afton’s psychopathic tendencies more scarily obvious under his Springtrap ruse.
Five Nights at Freddy’s Succumbs To A Messy Plot and Tone
In terms of Five Nights at Freddy’s‘ plot, the film pulls on several elements from the games but it does so in a way that says, “let me put you back together, then take you apart all over again.” In addition, the tonal whiplash between darkly ominous and silly light-heartedness leaves an uncomfortable feeling. The film decides to use Abby as the bridge to humanizing the animatronics which, while nice to see another side of them, overemphasizes the family-friendliness a bit too much.
The film relies on utilizing story pieces from the first three games with the Missing Children’s Incident as the driving force. As a change, the film tries to connect the kidnapping of Mike’s brother with the events of Freddy’s, but the specific details are dropped in exposition near the end, which doesn’t hold as much impact as what was seen. In addition, there’s a side story involving Mike and Abby’s nefarious aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson), but it mostly serves to intensify the stakes within Freddy’s rather than holding an emotional impact as it plays all its cards completely straight.
As a fan since the first game, Blumhouse’s Five Nights at Freddy’s delivers with a frighteningly unsettling nostalgia trip that happily celebrates its fanbase and history. However, as someone who wanted a more terrifyingly gruesome experience, this film somewhat lacked that intensity. Should Scott Cawthon and Blumhouse work on a sequel, hopefully, they may be able to improve on creating a more cohesive story for casual viewers while building on the historical foundations that fans have pieced together.
Rating – 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Five Nights at Freddy’s releases in theaters and on Peacock on October 27.
This review was written during the 2023 WGA (now resolved) and SAG-AFTRA (ongoing) strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series/movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.