Happy Halloween folks! If there are two things I like, it’s both horror movies and video game adaptations. Oh wait, I hate most video game adaptations. And while some movies break away from the video game curse (aka The Last of Us), it’s no secret that most video game movies are pretty terrible. So when the new Five Nights at Freddy’s movie came out, named after the popular game franchise of the same name, I kept my expectations low. And guess what? The movie STILL managed to disappoint me!
Mike (played by Josh Hutcherson) is a young man who suffers from recurring nightmares where he relives his little brother’s kidnapping. After being fired from his job as a mall security guard, Mike is desperate to find work to support himself and his little sister Abby (played by Piper Rubio) so that he doesn’t lose custody of her to his aunt. At the persistence of his career counselor, he takes a security guard job at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, a closed down joint after a case of disturbing child disappearances in the 1980s. The first two nights go smoothly, however, things go awry the third night, when Abby who tags along finds out the animatronics in the pizzeria are alive and want to play with her. Mike, with the help of local police officer Vanessa (played by Elizabeth Lail), discovers that the animatronics are possessed by the children who disappeared back in the 1980s and that they want to turn Abby into one of them.
Now if you thought that plot synopsis was convoluted, that is the best way I can summarize the movie. Honestly, what should’ve been an easy movie to make about a security guard watching over killer animatronics ended up becoming tied into a family custody battle, a whole subplot involving changing the past through your dreams, and psychic kids! Seriously, this isn’t Stranger Things or Inception, yet the movie seems to be trying to do both instead of remaining true to its roots. I went in expecting some good scares and entertaining B-movie slasher fun, but ended up not even getting that. How can you have a horror film without much horror in it? I guess the PG-13 rating had something to do with the quality of the scares and gore, but even then, you can make the most of what you have. And I’ve seen plenty of PG-13 movies that honestly surprise me when I remember that they’re rated PG-13.
For a movie from a game that had a simple premise, there was way too much unnecessary background info crammed in. I didn’t need to know about Mike’s custody battle over his sister with his aunt and how she’s trying to sabotage him, even getting Abby’s babysitter and her friends involved. Is this Game of Thrones? A whole thirty minutes of runtime could’ve been trimmed down and the movie would still be the same. Hell, better yet, use some of that runtime to actually build some tension and good scares! Instead, we spend way too much time with the humans and dealing with their family drama and not enough time being scared. I’m not coming to see a horror movie to watch some family drama, I’m trying to be scared! And just when you think the movie is about to get serious, it turns a complete 180. For example, Abby goes missing while Mike’s asleep on the job again (nice one, jerk, no wonder why you can’t hold a steady job!) and runs into the animatronics. When Mike wakes up, he panics after hearing her screams and goes to find her. And when he does, he, along with the audience, discovers that the animatronics are friendly with Abby. Why?
Now I understand the film trying to add depth to the security guard from the games, but giving him trauma-induced nightmares where he’s constantly trying to change the outcome of his little brother being kidnapped? He goes to lengths such as trying to mimic the conditions when it happened to better reach his dream. How does making your outside environment mimic that of your dream affect your dream? The second he falls asleep while on the job at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, his dreams are far more vivid and he is even able to fully communicate with people within the dream. Additionally, whatever physical pain he experiences in his dreams, he also experiences in the real world. The movie tries so hard to become Inception that at times I kept asking myself whether I accidentally walked into a crappy remake of the Nolan film! But besides Mike’s Inception subplot, Abby also has some weird psychic abilities, as she’s able to communicate with the missing children from Freddy’s. Why? I don’t know. She’s just able to! Not only does she draw her dreams in her waking life, but her drawings also have some power of their own, as this comes into play in the third act. Again, why? The movie never cares to address it!
The only redeeming qualities of this movie are Matthew Lillard, the soundtrack and the look of the animatronics. Matthew Lillard just goes completely bonkers as the villainous owner of the pizzeria, William Afton, as if he knew how bad the end product would be and just decided to do whatever he wanted with it, and I’m all here for it! It’s just a shame that we didn’t see more of him. The soundtrack does a really solid job at capturing the nostalgic, yet liminal feel of the 1980s tone in the pizzeria, combining elements of synth and gothic vocals. It is this unique combination that sets it apart from, say, the soundtrack from Stranger Things, which is largely composed of synth. Finally, I really liked how realistic the animatronics looked. Not only do they remain true to their designs from the games, but they also waver on that fine line of looking friendly and absolutely terrifying. Just for the design and atmosphere, the film gets a gold star from me!
What should’ve been an easy film to make about a night security guard keeping watch on killer animatronics who are slowly inching their way towards him turned into a nearly two hour drag complete with boring family drama, weird dream sequences and dumbed-down scares that fail to surprise anyone. If you’re looking for a good adaptation of Five Nights at Freddy’s, look no further than Willy’s Wonderland starring Nicolas Cage. Not only is it far scarier and entertaining, but it also stars Nick Cage as an ass-kicking janitor! 2023’s Five Nights at Freddy’s feels like it’s trying way too hard to be everything at once, from Inception, to The Black Phone, to even Game of Thrones! At the end of the day, 2023’s Five Nights at Freddy’s fails to not only be an entertaining horror film, but also a solid adaptation of its source material. Let’s just hope they don’t make an Amnesia: The Dark Descent movie.