Five Nights at Freddy’s may not deliver in the horror department, but it compensates with effective practical animatronics and decent performances.
While I haven’t had the chance to play the Five Nights at Freddy’s video games nor explore the associated literature, it’s impossible to forget the hype surrounding the franchise when the game first debuted in 2014. Then, earlier this year, came the trailer for the highly anticipated Five Nights at Freddy’s October film release, which instantly caught my attention due to the involvement of horror aficionado Matthew Lillard. Though the cinematic exploration of the story is relatively mild in the horror department, and the protagonist’s backstory feels overly intricate, the feature impresses with solid performances and unforgettable creature designs.
Following Mike’s (Josh Hutcherson) job loss, he seeks guidance from career counselor Steve Raglan (Lillard), who suggests a security guard position at a long-abandoned entertainment restaurant that has been closed since the 80s. The job is to safeguard the premises from trespassers, given the venue’s frequent break-ins, though, despite such instances, the owner is determined to preserve the legacy of the building. Yet, beneath the surface, the situation is far more complex. As the nights pass, Mike unearths the venue’s sinister past, aided by the overly helpful Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), who might have some secrets of her own.
Writers Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback, and Emma Tammi, who also directs, present the mysterious lead, Mike, infusing him with likability and substantial depth. The character, played effortlessly by Josh Hutcherson, adds a layer of intrigue and fascination that contributes significantly to the film’s allure. As the oldest sibling striving desperately to provide for his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio), particularly after a devastating event involving the siblings’ younger brother years prior, Mike’s paternal instincts shine brightly, and Rubio and Hutcherson bring to life a believable sibling bond.
For a film centering around animatronics, the substantial character development given to each role is impressive, even when some of their narratives are condensed into a brief timeframe. That said, some characters in Five Nights at Freddy’s, including Aunt Jane, portrayed by Mary Stuart Masterson, are underused, which feels like a missed opportunity to showcase their talent. This is particularly evident with the limited screen time given to Lillard, which was a big disappointment as he was the initial draw for me. Still, his versatile talent is undeniable, and as Five Nights at Freddy’s reaches its conclusion, the importance of his character within the storyline becomes increasingly evident, offering greater insight into his shrouded presence throughout the film’s runtime.
Whether devoted franchise followers or newcomers to the material, viewers will find a shared admiration for the well-executed animatronics. Five Nights at Freddy’s reliance on practical effects meticulously designed by the renowned The Jim Henson Company heightens their realism, and the film flawlessly captures the essence of the video games through the uncanny resemblance of each animatronic. In addition, the intricately crafted arcade within the pizzeria set design is bound to please diehard fans, as it brings Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy’s world to life.
Viewers looking for an abundance of scares and thrills may find themselves disappointed by the lack of spookiness in Five Nights at Freddy’s. This approach feels intentional as the filmmakers aim to cater to a broader audience, though they struggle to creatively utilize horror elements within the constraints of the film’s rating. However, the anticipation mounts as audience members wait for the activation of the animatronics, even if the climax falls short of expectations.
One of the most significant obstacles in Five Nights at Freddy’s is seamlessly blending Mike’s grief and trauma with the backstory of the animatronics. While these two aspects are intertwined, they feel disconnected, leading to pacing issues as the film attempts to meld them together. In turn, this intricate narrative may pose difficulties for younger fans trying to follow. However, they are likely to be too enamored with the visuals for the convoluted storyline to distract from the fun.
Five Nights at Freddy’s is not the year’s most memorable horror film, but it’s a watchable Halloween treat. It will undoubtedly delight franchise fans and, at the very least, leave newcomers impressed with its remarkable practical animatronics and commendable performances.
Five Nights at Freddy’s is out now globally in theaters.