‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ Review: Creepy Mascots Go Rogue



Hollywood has not been successful at turning video games into movies — a disappointing streak that “Five Nights at Freddy’s” fails to correct. Despite being shepherded by savvy low-budget horror producer Jason Blum, this is a rather empty and unexciting effort at attracting horror fans during Halloween season. Director Emma Tammi’s film squanders the game’s strange and unique-looking creatures, failing to add recognizable traits to the characters written for the film.

The script takes the game’s lead player, Mike, and tries to add a human dimension by giving him a convoluted backstory. In the game, he’s a night watchman keeping guard at the abandoned Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. Here, Mike’s a security guard played by Josh Hutcherson, who’s forced to take a job at this place in order to keep custody of his young sister, Abby (Piper Rubio). There are some dark family secrets, ghosts, a helpful but wary policewoman (Elizabeth Lial) and of course the animatronic giant creatures who come to life and are at once cute and deadly.

The film’s first major misstep is that it doesn’t take advantage of its odd central location. An abandoned pizzeria with slot and pinball machine games offers an opportunity to have fun with the retro Chuck E. Cheese-style setting. Instead, Tammi and production designer Marc Fisichella show the place to be rather drab, dark and devoid of color. It looks like any storage warehouse without distinguishing visuals. Additionally, there’s not enough of the animatronic creatures. Despite their distinctive look, they are not used effectively for horror or hilarity, missing the mark on both counts. A musical sequence that starts as an entertaining shake-up to the film is quickly cut.

As for the jolts and jump scares audiences expect from “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” there simply aren’t enough. The film contains just two such sequences, both weakly choreographed with limited tension, ending on predictable outcomes. Elsewhere, Tammi relies too much on the Newton Brothers’ loud ominous music to manufacture thrills that are just not there. There’s no tension to the proceedings and scene after scene takes too much time repeating the same beats.

So where does “Five Nights at Freddy’s” spend the bulk of its running time, if not at providing the thrills it has promised? The film mostly concentrates on Mike’s familial travails and history. The screenplay, credited to the game’s creator Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback and Tammi, flails around trying to come up with psychologically resonant characteristics for its protagonist. It ends up with an inert and implausible narrative, then spends too much time trying to make sense out of absurd situations. It’s a humorless and too-serious take on its source material. As Mike explains midway through the film, this is a story about “ghost children possessing giant robots,” so why is it such a slog to watch? An opportunity squandered.

Faced with a flat script and uninspired direction, the actors can’t save “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” Hutcherson manages to give his character the aptly bewildered look the plot calls for, but that’s where the performance starts and ends. He keeps repeating the same sentiments, lessening their impact. Lial is given the very difficult task of trying to explain the ridiculous plot rather genuinely. She fails to wring any pathos and does not take the chance to go big or camp, ending with a listless performance. Matthew Lillard overplays his smaller role and in the process spoils what was meant to be a major twist. Only Mary Stuart Masterson as Mike’s noxious aunt manages to come out unscathed with an acerbic take on her character that hints at how much better the film could have been if others took her cue.

The filmmakers behind “Five Nights at Freddy’s” made all the wrong choices. Instead of giving the animatronic characters center stage, they decided to concentrate on a baffling plot and backstory for their protagonist. In trying to adapt the game for the screen, they forgot what makes the original special, wringing unintentional laughter from its bizarre story instead of entertaining audiences.


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