Directed by: Emma Tammi
Premise: Based on the video game. An out of work mall cop (Josh Hutcherson) takes an overnight security job at a closed pizza restaurant and arcade featuring animatronic animals. He begins to suspect that the animatronics are alive and have murderous intentions.
What Works: Five Nights at Freddy’s is a PG-13 horror film and it mostly succeeds at that with a few scary sequences and a healthy dose of humor. There is something inherently creepy about anthropomorphic robotics and the filmmakers take advantage of that angle. There are a few frightening sequences in Five Nights at Freddy’s and the filmmakers demonstrate some skill in crafting scary sequences, using lighting, blocking, and editing to draw out the tension. The movie is also funny in a way that is usually self-aware. The premise is inherently ridiculous and the humor pokes fun at the conceit in a way that deflates viewer skepticism but without undermining the stakes or being obnoxiously self-referential. The film also has a nice relationship between Mike, an out of work adult played by Josh Hutcherson, and his juvenile sister Abby, played by Piper Rubio. The sibling relationship is a warm counterpoint to the horror and Rubio has great comic timing. Hutcherson’s character is given a backstory that adds some personal stakes to the story.
What Doesn’t: The decision to make Five Nights at Freddy’s PG-13 is not necessarily a bad one. There are plenty of frightening movies with less than an R-rating such as the original Poltergeist and A Quiet Place. However, Five Nights at Freddy’s consistently feels as though the filmmakers are pulling their punches. The moviemakers don’t commit to the horror and the picture consistently feels like it’s holding back. Instead of getting more horrific, Five Nights at Freddy’s gradually eases up and arrives at an underwhelming conclusion.Part of the problem is the pacing. As the title, implies, Five Nights at Freddy’s is set over several nights and the plotting is baggy, causing the film to lose momentum. The dialogue writing is spotty and the film is occasionally unintentionally funny. Storytellers often strive for unity with themes and subplots dovetailing together. This risks becoming contrived as it does in Five Nights at Freddy’s. There are too many coincidences between the film’s various parts in ways that make the story unbelievable. Rather inexplicably, Five Nights at Freddy’s doesn’t do much with its inspiration. The restaurant is clearly inspired by the Chuck E. Cheese and ShowBiz Pizza chains but the filmmakers aren’t very creative in turning that concept into the site of a horror show.
Bottom Line: Five Nights at Freddy’s will probably entertain the kind of viewers who simultaneously don’t like horror and want to watch something spooky around Halloween. For everyone else it’s too staid and too long.
Episode: #971 (October 29, 2023)