Should Five Nights At Freddy’s have had a lower age rating?

Five Nights At Freddys
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The Five Nights At Freddy’s franchise is popular with a young audience, but they’re unable to see the new film in the UK due to its age rating. 

Five Nights At Freddy’s is now in cinemas. The long-awaited film adaptation of the game franchise of the same name has been in development for years. The first game was released in 2014 and by 2015, Warner Bros had acquired the film rights. Ultimately, Jason Blum’s home for horror, Blumhouse, would produce the film and Universal Pictures would go on to distribute the film.

The film focuses on Josh Hutcherson’s Mike, the latest security guard to accept the job to guard over the closed-down Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. At night, the restaurant’s old, abandoned animatronic characters – Freddy, Chica, Foxy and Bonnie – come to life and roam the hallways. They also enjoy a bit of light, night-time murder.

Five Nights at Freddy’s debuted to less than enthusiastic reviews from critics, but then again, we are mostly a bunch of old farts, so what do we know? Five Nights at Freddy’s was always going to be a film that cared more about pleasing its target audience than critical acclaim.

You might be sensing a ‘but’ coming. Your senses are correct.

five nights at freddy's

Credit: Universal Pictures

A huge proportion of Five Nights At Freddy’s fanbase are young gamers. Director Emma Tammi has described the young fanbase to have been “a priority” for her and franchise creator Scott Cawthon during production and the film ultimately got a PG-13 rating in the US and a 15 in the UK.

The original game is rated 12 and includes no gore or violence, just some pretty haunting jump scares. It gives you the illusion of violence, without ever portraying any. The low rating, coupled with the game’s big online presence through YouTube playthroughs, has made the game super popular with a pre-teen audience. Horror has always intrigued younger viewers; we’re always drawn to things we’re told we can’t have. Something about forbidden fruit and so on.

Now, when it comes to horror films, the PG-13 rating has long been seen as a mark of a lesser film. There’s plenty you can do without gore or violence, but in general, it’s a reason for the most seasoned horror fans to get worried about the quality of the film.

In the bizarre case of Five Nights At Freddy’s, the rating has become somewhat of a double-edged sword. On one hand, many critics complained about the lack of intensity and scares in the film, yet the 15 rating still prohibits a lot of the younger fans from seeking out the film. In other words, Five Nights At Freddy’s never stood a chance.

In our review, we described the film as “toothless” and noted that “for anyone over the age of 15, Five Nights At Freddy’s will most likely prove to be painfully dull.” We stand by this assessment of the film itself, but we’re also hugely supportive of horror films that are aimed at younger fans.

Five Nights At Freddy's josh hutcherson elizabeth lail

Credit: Universal Pictures

In the US, the film premiered on streaming service Peacock on 26th October before being released in cinemas 27th October. This could prove to be the film’s saviour. Some more lenient parents might let their pre-teens watch the film at home with parental supervision, giving Tammi’s film a better chance to find its core audience.

It seems that there’s a real hunger for this film. Deadline reported today that the film wasn’t slowed down by its streaming release; Five Nights At Freddy’s managed to pull an impressive $10.3m from Thursday night previews in the US.

It’s likely that Five Nights At Freddy’s will experience a significant drop in box office numbers after the first week, at least in the US, after the hardcore fans have seen it on the big screen and anyone who’s only mildly curious has caught it on Peacock. It’s also likely a film that might do much better when it’s released on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital as it’ll be available for an even larger demographic.

Should the Five Nights At Freddy’s movie have had a lower rating to begin with? There’s no simple answer to that question. Many of the film’s flaws come from the script, but it doesn’t help that Five Nights At Freddy’s can’t really go all-in for the scares due to its rating. That being said, young viewers have a right to experience the same safe thrills we do when we watch Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Conjuring. Being able to be scared in a safe environment is a huge adrenaline rush, and as Tammi herself said in our exclusive interview, Hollywood is missing out by ignoring all this potential.

Tammi got away with a decent amount of gnarliness in her film, but what would an even lower rated Five Nights At Freddy’s look like? According to the BBFC, a 12-rated film can still contain “moderate physical and psychological threat and horror sequences. Although some scenes may be disturbing, the overall tone should not be. Horror sequences should not be frequent or sustained.”

Hmm, that might be an issue.

For violence, the BBFC rules that films should not dwell on details of injuries and so forth, and that “occasional gory moments may be permitted if justified by the context.”

It seems like it’s more of a question of tone and mood than it is of actual violence. The games may not include any bloodletting, but they can be intense and the jumpscares are very effective. It may well be that Five Nights At Freddy’s was never going to be a successful, independent horror film that worked on its own cinematic terms and a film that could also please the franchise’s younger, core fanbase.

Five Nights At Freddy’s is out now in cinemas.

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