Mike (Josh Hutcherson) is a man tormented by past trauma. As a child he witnessed the abduction of his younger brother, an incident which shattered his happy family.
Now a grown man, he struggles to hold onto temp security guard jobs. Not only does he not wish to move on from the events of that fateful day but Mike tries to relive it every night in his dreams in hopes that he will recall something which will solve his brother’s kidnapping.
As Mike is fired from yet another job, his icy Aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) is seeking custody of his troubled 10-year-old sister, Abby. Desperate to hold onto the only family he has left, Mike takes a peculiar night watch job at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. An eccentric themed restaurant, the pizzeria was once a place of laughter and fun for children. Now, it sits abandoned, dusty and locked up tight. The restaurant’s giant furry animal-animatronic-abominations now silent as the grave… but not for long.
At first things just seem creepy. Mike meets Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), a local police officer and fan of the pizzeria who introduces Mike to the once loveable mascots. Mike starts having stronger dreams and begins to notice other disturbing occurrences. There’s something very wrong about this pizzeria and its robotic mascots. Over five nights, he must uncover the mysterious past and shocking secret of Freddy Fazbear and his friends.
To say that the ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ games have been successful would be a grand understatement. Created in 2014 by Scott Cawthon, the series gained immense popularity amongst gamers. The simple yet engaging and scary gameplay was accompanied by the series’ deep lore which has built with every new instalment. With such a runaway crowd-pleaser, it seemed an inevitability that there would be a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie. Directed by Emma Tammi with a script she co-wrote with Cawthon, Blumhouse Productions brings Freddy and his killer friends to the silver screen.
While I have played some of the Five Nights at Freddy’s games, I was still was not completely versed with them before seeing this film. What I can say is that it is impressive just how well the filmmakers have recreated the look of the games in this film. Unlike many video game movie adaptations, the creator Scott Cawthon has retained some creative control here and it shows.
Primarily, this is seen in the physical design of the animatronic horrors themselves. The wise decision was made here not to use CGI and instead the film’s monsters are a mix of costumed performers and puppetry. With the world’s premiere creature effects house Jim Henson’s Creature Shop responsible for crafting and puppeteering these larger-than-life horrors.
Visually, they toe the line well between being believable as a source of children’s entertainment but also of their nightmares when viewed in a different context. Personally, the standout character for me would be the most complex, Foxy who designed in such a way, it was clear there was no actor hiding within the suit manipulating its movement.
The lore of Five Nights at Freddy’s is also respected in the film’s screenplay. Perhaps even to its detriment, as the franchise’s built-in fan base will already know several key plot twists long before they are revealed. However, I was impressed by the psychological horror aspect of the film, particularly early on. The idea of Mike attempting to manipulate his dreams into revealing secrets of his past torments was an interesting one indeed.
It was also a clever way to tie into the film’s ‘five nights’ motif, when each night Mike feels he’s drawing closer to the truth. Unfortunately, the film does drop this later in the narrative in exchange for more traditional reveals. Reveals which, even not knowing the established lore, I think are handled in a way which make them quite obvious.
This leads me to the one aspect of the games that I feel the film doesn’t live up to, its scares. The terrors of the game are attributed to its jump scares. At least, in my experience with them and this mostly comes from Freddy and pals moving closer and closer to you when you’re not looking. The game fails you if you let them get too close, at which point you’re frightened out of your socks by a jump scare.
In contrast, the movie just isn’t particularly scary, largely due to how the Fazbear animatronics are shot. They’re built up in the story appropriately before being revealed and there is some effective tension developed here and there. But often they are shown to just be awkwardly lumbering around which detracts from the shock-factor that the games are so well known for.
Personally, I am not a fan of an overuse of jump scares in film as I think it’s a cheap substitute for true horror. But this is the one time that they would have been completely appropriate with the film benefiting from them, but they’re just not there.
Still, there is plenty for the Five Nights at Freddy’s fanbase to enjoy in this adaptation. It’s violent, it’s creative, and it’s true to the source material in ways many that video game movies often aren’t. The effects by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop are top notch (when they’re shot correctly) and the film features a decent performance from Josh Hutcherson. I just wish the film had some more legitimate scares to pull it all together.