I’ve written about video game adaptations more than once on the site. I want there to be lots of good ones. It’s good for the gaming industry, it’s good for cinema. More good movies is always a good thing in my book. Of course, film adaptations of games usually are terrible. Recently, we’ve been moving in the right direction, which gave some anticipation and even hope to something like Five Nights at Freddy’s. Unfortunately, we’ll it’s better than the nadir of the genre we’ve seen on screen in the past, it’s nothing special at all and frankly, is a bit on the boring did
Five Nights at Freddy’s wants to be a successful adaptation of the game, as well as a successful fright flick. I can’t speak to the faithfulness to the source material (though it seems fairly similar to what I know of it), but in terms of its effectiveness as a scary movie, it leaves something to be desired. It’s not actively bad, but it’s woefully mediocre, which is a real shame. As the only real Halloween horror offering this year, it has the market almost to itself. To be this much of a meh movie just feels like a wasted opportunity.
Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson) is a troubled young man caring for his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio). He’s her guardian these days, though he’s haunted by the loss of his younger brother Garrett, abducted from a campgrounds when they were kids. Every night, he uses sleeping pills to revisit the crime in his mind, trying to figure out who did it. Mike and Abby’s Aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) wants custody of the latter, which puts added pressure on him to find a new job when he’s fired from a mall security gig for mistaking a father/son incident as a kidnapping. Without many options, given a spotty employment history, he’s offered a job by Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard) at the abandoned Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. Working nights is hard with Abby, but he takes it anyway.
Over the course of, you guessed it, five nights, Mike discovers that the animatronic costumes within the abandoned restaurant come to life overnight. With the help of the kindly cop Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), he begins to learn about what happened at Freddy’s in the past. Of course, this will all tie in to his childhood loss, especially when Abby comes along one night and the robots take a liking to her.
Josh Hutcherson is a reliably good actor, and he does what he can with an underwritten role, but the elements involving his tragic past are some of the film’s least effective. He does what he can, but it’s a one-note role, so the performance can only go so far. Hutcherson is the centerpiece, so the likes of Elizabeth Lail and Piper Rubio just have to pick up the scraps. There’s not much for Mary Stuart Masterson to do here either, as she’s utterly wasted. Matthew Lillard is out of place and doing a thing, but at least he’s the only one trying to have some fun. Supporting players include Kat Conner Sterling, David Lind, Joseph Poliquin, Christian Stokes, Tadasay Young, and more.
Director Emma Tammi doesn’t lean on the animatronic monsters nearly enough. Co-writing with Scott Cawthon (who created the game franchise) and Seth Cuddeback, Tammi waits too long to actually get into the horror of it all. It’s about an hour before our protagonist is really dealing with the monsters, which is wild, and even then, it isn’t really a horror situation for him and the robots. There are also some very cheap jump scares, which should only scare the audience, not the character on screen. It’s designed to scare a younger audience member, so it’s simple, but it’s too simple, at least in terms of what happens. Plot-wise, it’s a muddled mess, with a serial killer, possessions, and other nonsense. At the same time, Cawthon, Cuddeback, and Tammi haven’t designed it for kids (there’s drug abuse, gore, murder, etc), so it’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. It wants to have an Are You Afraid of the Dark? or Goosebumps type vibe, but it falls well short of the mark.
Five Nights at Freddy’s forgets to be fun or scary, limiting what genre effectiveness can be mustered up here. Fans of the game will probably be satisfied, as will those who haven’t seen a lot of horror movies. The rest of us? We need not apply. That’s likely the intended audiences, and considering its strong box office haul so far, the plan is working. It just doesn’t have the goods in order to warrant a recommendation.