Five Nights At Freddy’s review | Toothless videogame horror

Five Nights At Freddy's review
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Based on the popular videogame franchise, Emma Tammi’s horror film fails to deliver thrills or scares. Here’s our Five Nights At Freddy’s review.

2023, for the most part, has been an excellent year for film. It’s been an even better year for videogame adaptations; the year got off to a great start with HBO’s The Last Of Us and The Super Mario Bros. Movie was only recently dethroned by Barbie as the highest grossing film of the year. Gran Turismo turned out okay as well.

Now, the focus shifts to Five Nights At Freddy’s. Emma Tammi, the director behind (the excellent) supernatural western The Wind, has courageously said yes to an almost impossible task: turn a videogame that has barely any story to it, but plenty of lore, into a cohesive film.

Extra points if you can make it under two hours.

For those unfamiliar with the videogame franchise, here are the basics: you play as a security guard who must survive five overnight shifts, from 12am to 6am, at an abandoned pizzeria where haunted animatronic characters wander at night and try to kill you. You can only defend yourself by looking at the cameras, closing doors and turning on lights.

Five Nights At Freddy's josh hutcherson elizabeth lail

Credit: Universal Pictures

The games are popular for a reason; they’re devilishly simple, and I’ve seen grown men cry from terror while playing them. There are eight main games (more are coming…) and plenty of spin-offs, so there’s plenty of source material to help with the film adaptation, which seemed inevitable. But also, it’s a source material that feels like it’s been in development for a very, very long time while somebody tried to crack it.

Josh Hutcherson (of The Hunger Games fame) plays Mike, the latest hapless security guard for Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. Mike is fighting tooth and nail for this job; he needs it to keep custody of his young sister Abby. Mike is also weighed down by his little brother’s traumatic disappearance years ago, so when the supposedly haunted animatronics at Freddy’s come to life, Mike is having a hard time dealing with it all. That being said, I don’t have any notable childhood trauma and I, too, would be soiling myself if haunted animatronics were hunting me every night.

Five Nights At Freddy’s begins with a sequence that is somehow better than the rest of the film. It hints at a better, more brutal movie in, in fact, than Five Nights At Freddy’s ends up being.

On one hand, Tammi had to work with a PG-13 (a 15 in the UK) age rating, one that prohibits her from committing to a properly gory adaptation of the game. On the other hand, Five Nights At Freddy’s gets away with just enough to be a compelling gateway horror film for younger audiences (although the 2015 Goosebumps movie is a far better way in). For a younger viewer, it might be scary enough without being traumatising. For anyone over the age of 15, Five Nights At Freddy’s will most likely prove to be painfully dull.

To Tammi’s credit, there are a few instances where she creatively works around the low rating to give the impression of hardcore violence. In a particularly impressive scene, a character gets bitten in half in silhouette, which, while completely blood-free, is still pretty gnarly. If Five Nights At Freddy’s had come out when I was 14, I may have been a huge fan and it would have pushed me to seek out more horror films of the same nature. But it didn’t, and I’m not.

What we end up with is a movie whose story is far too convoluted and superficial to leave any lasting impression. Hutcherson is a forgettable lead and his performance isn’t helped by a shallow script that confuses heavy backstory for emotional depth. While Matthew Lillard is always a welcome addition to any film, playing Mike’s mysterious career counsellor here, Elizabeth Lail is helplessly underserved by a thinly written character. Lail’s Vanessa will hold some kind of importance to gamers, I’m sure, but as far as the film goes, it’s another wasted opportunity.

It’s worth mentioning that someone already tried to make a horror film with almost exactly the same premise. Kevin Lewis’ Willy’s Wonderland premiered in 2021 and audiences and critics immediately noted that it was almost identical to Five Nights at Freddy’s. In that film, Nicolas Cage’s janitor is also pitted against demonic, murderous animatronics that come to life. It’s a feather in Five Nights at Freddy’s cap that at least it’s marginally better than Willy’s Wonderland. 

Still, Five Nights At Freddy’s continues what’s been a disappointing streak of horror films in what has been otherwise a stellar year for films. It’s an uninspired adaptation, afraid to break free from its source material but also unable to translate what makes the game compelling into cinematic form. If The Last Of Us represented the best possible version of a videogame adaptation, Five Nights At Freddy’s represents what happens when things don’t go to plan.

Bottom line: should the movie appear on one of the security monitors in the game itself, I’d simply be inclined to switch said monitor off.

Five Nights At Freddy’s is now in cinemas.

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