Since 2020, I’ve lived in a beautiful world where my only exposure to the Five Nights at Freddy’s universe was Jack Black’s bizarre TikTok video singing a little ditty about the series. I’ve never played the games or watched the lore videos, and a mildly funny, somewhat confusing Jack Black video was all the subjection to the characters I needed.
Unfortunately, I decided to broaden my horizons this October and made the (very poor) decision to watch the very first (and hopefully only) “Five Nights at Freddy’s” movie.
It was bad.
For those lucky uninitiated, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” is a PG-13 horror movie starring Josh Hutcherson of “Hunger Games” fame as Mike Schmidt. The movie follows Mike as he struggles to keep custody of his sister while landing a nighttime gig as a security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a defunct Chuck E. Cheese-esque venue with several murderous animatronic robots.
The movie opens with the previous security guard being oh-so-tamely murdered by said animatronics and then proceeds to waste half an hour on drawn out family drama — Mike’s aunt wants custody of his sister! — before returning to the main sell of the animatronics. If that sounds boring, that’s because it is.
I went into this movie hoping for a laughably bad time. Instead, I was bored. Very, very bored.
This movie clearly wants you to understand that there’s lore behind the series, but it does nothing to flesh itthat lore out. OK, the animatronics are possessed by the spirits of children murdered by the venue’s owner. Cool. Does the owner have an interesting motivation? No. Do those kids have personalities? Of course not.
Had this movie gone the route of “Cocaine Bear” — over-the-top violence and insanity from a movie that understands exactly what it is — the experience may have been bearable. Instead, it was a slog.
The tone of “Five Nights” is undoubtedly its biggest shortcoming, and there are plenty to choose from. It’s part boring family drama, part PG-13-handicapped horror, part I-don’t-even-know-what in the middle.
Immediately after the animatronics murder four people, Mike and his sister have a sleepover with a cop and build a fort with the animatronics’ help. It’s a wild tonal shift that immediately undermines what little threatening presence the animatronics maintained, and believe me, it was little enough already.
Beyond the tone, the acting was stilted across the board. Elizabeth Lail plays Mike’s cop friend and (I think) love interest Vanessa with a lack of anything at all. At multiple points, Hutcherson sounds like he’s narrating an audiobook, not acting in a movie, a. And the child actors are, well, child actors.
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The actors aren’t entirely to blame for their performances. The script gave them nothing to work with, and I can’t imagine acting across from a giant puppet that’s meant to look threatening and instead looks stupid is the easiest feat.
The writing’s shortcomings don’t stop at the dialogue. I’m generally forgiving of plotholes, but this movie is like a road that hasn’t been paved since the 1940s. Multiple people die with no consequence or investigation. Freddy, the titular animatronic, somehow gets to Mike’s house without issue. Mike can afford a house?
At one point, Abby is being chased by Foxy and hides behind an arcade game. The film does the cliche shot where Foxy approaches slowly, and by the time he gets there, Abby has managed to disappear. Except she disappears into THE MIDDLE OF A BALL PIT without a sound and directly in front of the animatronic. The filmmakers didn’t even attempt to make the shot plausible or sensible.
If you have two free hours this week, I recommend doing anything else except watching this movie. I’ll still give it two points — one for the lawyer, Doug, half for a hysterical shot of Chica walking behind an industrial fan and half for Bonnie giving a thumbs-up — but don’t mistake that for enjoyment. I’m just feeling generous today.