As Halloween approaches, our final in-season horror movies are releasing. Among these was the long-awaited “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” Produced by Blumhouse in collaboration with Scott Cawthon, the franchise’s creator, the movie tells the story of a night security guard, Mike, his younger sister, Abby, and the haunted animatronics in the abandoned pizzeria he’s been charged with watching. The movie adapts portions of the game series of the same name.
On a technical level, the film has good acting and doesn’t lack in terms of casting. Mike Schmidt, the protagonist, is played by Josh Hutcherson, well-known for playing Peeta in “The Hunger Games” franchise. Matthew Lillard is another big name, playing Steve Raglan, a career counselor who offers Mike the job. The animatronics are lifelike, not CGI, and seeing them tower over even full-grown adults does add some terror. The cinematography is quite good, with scenes having a solid sense of ambiance and visible effort. It is by no means some cheap B-movie.
As a film adaptation, the movie holds some bias from those familiar with the series. Multiple YouTubers who are well-known among fans of the franchise had cameos, and there were plenty of easter eggs and nods to the games.
The movie has received mixed reviews from critics, while audiences have given the film much higher praise. This has resulted in a large gap on critic aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, with the difference between a 24% critic rating and an 88% audience rating.
The movie is, at its core, for fans of the franchise. For a horror fan looking to see what the hype is about but knowing nothing of the games, it probably won’t offer too much. The film is not particularly scary, and there is a lot of emphasis on the characters and the plot around them, much more so than the actual haunted pizzeria.
To an outsider, this may seem extremely bizarre. But the secret to Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF) and its popularity isn’t that it’s just a scary horror game; there’s also hidden lore and a plot buried in the background of the games. The community rallies behind this in never-ending attempts to solve the story, keeping interest piqued long after the jumpscares wear off.
The film plays into this aspect of the community. Last week, Cawthon released a game titled “FNAF: The Movie: The Game” on GameJolt. Once booted up, it is revealed to actually be “Freddy in Space 3: Chica in Space.” This is only the latest entry in a history of fake-out games posted by Cawthon before a big release. Once beaten, however, the game gives the player the link to an unlisted, nine-minute trailer for the movie on the Universal Pictures YouTube page, titled “Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza Security Footage.”
In all honesty, those nine minutes were scarier than the movie. And a casual watcher looking for a movie to watch this weekend probably won’t ever know it existed. If you want to see a security guard desperately trying to survive a haunted pizzeria? Maybe just watch the cold open or play one of the first couple of games. Because the true scares are few and far between, and the big plot twist is fairly spelled out.
But if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll be interested. You know the twist because you know the games. What you don’t know is how much of the games will be taken in, which keeps us guessing. The movie uses the fans’ knowledge of the lore against them, twisting what you know about characters to provide mystery.
For example, Mike Schmidt is the name of the security guard of the first game. However, Mike Afton is a major character in the franchise and is theorized to be the player character of most games, albeit under aliases. So, is this Mike actually Mike Afton? Vanessa, a police officer and provider of information about Freddy’s in the movie, is a security guard and villain in the most recent game entry, Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach. Is she going to be a twist villain here as well?
The movie does suffer some from its PG-13 rating. Most deaths are fade-aways with screaming in the back. Even the most central death scene at the climax, depicting a famous and, in theory, horrific scene from the games, is underwhelming. The series has many child fans, but it still could have been better and more of a horror movie if it had committed to the brutality of what was happening.
Overall, this movie is fun. It’s goofy at times, and the characters are, for the most part, likable and believable. It neatly sets up an inevitable sequel with, once again, hints and references to things only fans will really understand.
But, to anyone unfamiliar with the series, it probably won’t be what you wanted. It’ll be far too plot-heavy and scare-free for a horror movie.