Five Nights at Freddy’s Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Emma Tammi
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Piper Rubio, Elizabeth Lail, Matthew Lillard, Mary Stuart Masterson.
From horror specialists Blumhouse comes Five Nights At Freddy’s, yet another entry into that subgenre of films about seemingly cuddly toys coming alive and acting with malevolent intent. But unlike films like Child’s Play or the Annabelle series, this one is unlikely to yield a long running franchise despite its origins as a popular video game. And in acknowledging that it is aimed at a younger teen audience, the violence and gory elements have been toned down.
The film is largely set in Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, a decrepit former amusement arcade for children that has been closed for a decade following the murder of five children. The place is now covered in dust and the electricity is unreliable. But there is also something slightly sinister about the old building.
Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson, from The Hunger Games trilogy, etc) is the new overnight security guard hired to watch over the place at night. Mike is given a tragic backstory that involves his younger brother Garrett, who was kidnapped from a picnic ground during a family outing. Garrett has never been found and the mystery of what happened to him or who took him has never been resolved. Tormented by memories of that time many years earlier and due to his unstable state and angry outbursts Mike has been unable to hold down a job for very long. But then he is offered the position of night security guard at Freddy’s. Initially reluctant to accept the job he finally takes on the responsibility mainly to ensure that he can retain sole custody of his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio) and ensure that his aunt (Mary Stuart Masterton) doesn’t manage to wrest custody away from him.
The fun parlour is full of creepy giant sized animatronic toys that occasionally come to life and kill anyone who ventures into the decrepit building. The animatronic toys were part of a band that was the star attraction of the pizzeria. Mike brings Abby to work him and she becomes intrigued by the animatronic characters. And every so often Mike is visited by Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail, from tv series Gossip Girl, etc), a local police officer who seems to know more about the history of the place and is connected to its dark past.
But during his nights at Freddy’s, he regularly dreams of what happened during that day when Garrett was taken. He takes sleeping pills to help him sleep so he can revisit that day in his dreams and try to find some clues as to the identity of the kidnapper. But try as he might Mike realises that he cannot change the past. But more disturbing is the way in which the toys themselves seem to become fixated on Abby, placing her in danger.
Five Nights At Freddy’s is based on the popular slasher-themed video game series of the same name created in 2014 by Scott Cawthon, a video game developer and animator, that has spawned a number of graphic novels and comics and even toys. This film adaptation has been written by Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback (Mateo, etc) and director Emma Tammi (Fair Chase, etc) and while it captures the spirit of the source material it is a little muddled and tonally uneven.
Tammi establishes an unsettling mood, aided by Marc Fisichella’s inventive production design, gritty cinematography from Lyn Moncrief and the atmospheric dark lighting and a couple of effective jump scares. Rather than using CGI effects, the cheesy and furry animatronic characters are performed by puppeteers from Jim Henson’s workshop, but they are not quite as menacing as they could be. But there are also some unexplained elements in the story – for instance how the sluggish and slow-moving animatronic animals are able to move about so freely and not be seen. A healthy suspension of disbelief is required at times.
Hutcherson has been absent from the screen for a while, but he acquits himself well as the disturbed but sympathetic hero who is battling his own personal demons while trying to keep his life on track. Rubio is good as Abby, who initially comes across as withdrawn and introverted but who becomes more engaged when she enters Freddy’s, and she gives the film its emotional core. Matthew Lillard has a slightly creepy presence as career counsellor Steve Raglan.
While this feature film adaptation captures the spirit of the source material it is a little muddled and not that scary, although Five Nights At Freddy’s will probably appeal most to the fanbase. And it may also remind genre fans of the ridiculous Nicolas Cage horror film from 2021 called Willy’s Wonderland, which had a similar premise.