Five Nights at Freddy’s lacks the scares in favor of a plot-driven film. It takes a slightly different direction, answering why these creepy animatronics come to life. But the movies takes on too much. It connects a brother raising a sister while haunted by a past mistake, creepy ghost children, and an aunt vying for custody of his sister and shovels it into a horror movie.
As a fan of the game, I did love the direction this story takes. That’s mostly because, with the ending, I’m hoping for a sequel that might focus on the horror now that the first movie laid the groundwork. Five Nights at Freddy’s is family-friendly with limited frights or jump scares, where instead of fearing these chilling animatronics, audiences cheer for them.
Written by Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback, and Emma Tammi and directed by Emma Tammi, the movie’s game origin is evident even for folks who have never played it. The premise of the game is simple. Gamers play the security guard stuck in the office whose sole purpose is to survive their night shift. As the night churns on, the giant animatronics move around. As the head to the office, players use the cameras and security doors to keep the riff-raff out. But the electricity is finite. If you run out of power before your shift ends, you die. The movie doesn’t focus on this aspect as much as the people outside this setting.
Five Nights at Freddy’s Tackles Childhood Trauma
The movie sets up the struggle for Mike (Josh Hutcherson) at the outset. When Mike pummels a handsy man dragging a child through the mall, two things are clear to audiences. The man is the boy’s jerk dad, and Mike has some past trauma. As he tackles the man, Mike’s whole demeanor screams, “Not again.” Mike is the guardian of his younger sister, Abby (Piper Rubio). But Mike had a brother—one whom Mike’s parents charged him with watching. While at a campground, Mike saw his brother abducted. That moment still weighs on Mike. He takes sleeping medication and reads books on dreams to have nightmares. He hopes to return to that moment and discover who took his brother.
When Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard) offers him a new job as a night shift security guard for Freddy Fazzbear’s Pizzeria, Mike initially declines the gig. But with Aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) breathing down his neck to take Abby, Mike soon accepts. But when Abby’s babysitting vanishes, Mike has to bring her along to this knockoff Chuck E. Cheese franchise. Through nightmares and a helpful, almost omniscient officer, Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), Mike learns why the dilapidated pizzeria fell out of favor in the 80s. Missing children, the same ones haunting his dreams and possessing the animatronics, caused the demise of Freddy’s. But they get along with Abby, who has difficulty connecting with others.
Less Scary, More Interesting
As Abby and the animatronics (created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop), Freddy the Bear, Chica the Chicken, Foxy the Fox, and Bonnie the Bunny have fun together, the film makes it more than vengeful ghost kids. The catchy 80s song “Talking in Your Sleep” takes on a new meaning with Mike’s nightmare forays to solve his brother’s abduction. Even Vanessa cares for the animatronics, while Mike never ceases to feel unnerved by their presence. It’s adorable and strange when they build a fort for all of them to lie in. Unfortunately, Five Nights at Freddy’s does not use more of the eerie abandoned locale to build scares and not just cute moments.
The horror moments are few and far between. When those moments arrive, the producers of M3gan keep it frustratingly PG-13 when an R-rating is preferable. The conflict with the Aunt is unnecessary. Dumping it would tighten the film. Plus, the reveal of the villain is no shocker.
So, the audience might be frustrated by these issues. But I love how they brought the animatronics to life in this movie. They look fabulous in a dreadful, cringe-and-back-away way. The ending of Five Nights at Freddy’s adds a chilling moment of promise that hopefully the sequel—if there is one—realizes in macabre glory. I enjoyed the movie, but if you went in expecting the frenetic frights of the game building to a crescendo, expect disappointment.