‘Five Nights At Freddy’s’ Review – Intricate Animatronics Dominate Diluted Horror
Mike (Josh Hutcherson) struggles to keep a job to support his little sister Abby (Piper Rubio). He doesn’t sleep well due to being obsessed with the past. After losing his most recent job due to a misunderstanding on Mike’s part, his career counselor Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard) gives Mike the only job he now qualifies for; a night shift security guard at an abandoned family entertainment center called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza.
As Mike spends more time at Freddy’s, he realizes he isn’t alone. The animatronic mascots lurk about the restaurant freely. Bodies begin to pile up, and a local police officer named Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) comes into the scene while showing an infatuation with both Mike and the establishment he now attempts to keep safe. Now Mike has to figure out how to stay alive long enough to discover what happened at Freddy’s and what these murderous mascots want with his sister.
The less you know about the Five Nights at Freddy’s video game series, the more enjoyable the film is. The thing about live-action video game adaptations is that you can count on them being altered in some capacity once they finally jump to the silver screen.
Blumhouse Productions, director and co-writer Emma Tammi (The Wind), screenwriters Scott Cawthon (creator of the Freddy video games) and Seth Cuddeback, and story writers Chris Lee Hill and Tyler MacIntyre decided to present Freddy’s as a PG-13 film likely to cater to a larger, more accessible audience than if the film had an R-rating. Since the film made over $130 million worldwide opening weekend, the transition to a less gory rating is at least a financially successful one.
This rating means that the bloodier sequences from the games are almost nonexistent. There’s still some gruesome imagery, like someone having their face chewed off by a giant cupcake, but the blood is minimal. The scares in the film rely solely on tension, jump scares, and not knowing what or who is hiding in the dark.
The real stars of the film are the animatronics: Freddy, Bonnie, Chica, Foxy, and Mr. Cupcake. Created by the Jim Henson Company, Freddy and his friends look utterly fantastic. For sequences when the animatronics walked, a stunt performer would wear a costume, and somebody would control the head remotely. Puppeteers would control the head and body otherwise. Foxy, known for having a skeletal frame, took six puppeteers to operate.
Matthew Lillard is exceptional despite his limited amount of screen time. He’s charismatically insulting as Steve Raglan dangling a potential job opportunity at Mike like a rotten carrot. The character provides the backstory for Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza and why it closed down. Lillard steals every scene, even when he shares the screen with Freddy.
Unfortunately, the film utilizes the security cameras less than the video games — a definite letdown, given that half the thrill was seeing who disappeared and where they would end up to try and kill players. The film touches on that slightly, but it feels less thrilling.
After seeing the movie twice, I can confirm that there is a distinct chance you’ll find the film even more enjoyable on repeated viewings. Apart from Matthew Lillard, the acting is a little dry. Josh Hutcherson is shrouded in a veil of disconnect as Mike, and there’s a good reason for that in the story, but when you look back on his performance, as far as emotion or being memorable on-screen, he’s forgettable.
This film is also Piper Rubio’s feature film debut, and her performance could be better. Her dialogue feels strained like she’s delivering everything she says while carrying something heavy. While Rubio is quite passable as Abby, especially since she’s so young, she lacks the dramatic and emotional chops to sell her situation with her friends.
Mike’s infatuation with Dream Theory becomes redundant, especially after you’ve already seen the film. Mike takes every precaution to revisit his past when he dreams every night. He is reliving one exact moment over and over to try and get answers he’s never been able to in the present. But things get weird in the film and take a Nightmare on Elm Street approach where Mike’s dream injuries suddenly start occurring in reality. It’s a story element whose entire purpose is to be repetitive, but it feels like a chore.
However, Five Nights at Freddy’s is one of the better video game movie adaptations. While the blood is toned down, that murderous rage still translates to live action rather effectively. The animatronics are almost identical to how they look in the games, which is incredibly exciting.
There are some pacing issues, and the acting could be more balanced. Keeping the majority of the anxiety inducing chills from the video game franchise it stems from, Five Nights at Freddy’s delivers a solid movie experience.