Five Nights at Freddy’s as a movie has been stuck in development for nearly 10 years, it’s changed producers, directors, you name it. But Scott Cawthon and the game franchise have set a solid foundation for Blumhouse to work with.
But can this game that’s captured the attention of edgy zoomers and neurotic millennials (myself included) translate to a movie? Can it satisfy fans who have bothered to sit through hours of lore videos with its 109 minute runtime?
Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023)
Production Company: Blumhouse Productions, Scott Cawthon Productions
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Emma Tammi
Release Date: October 27, 2023
CAUTION: I will definitely spoil plot points from the game series, but I will avoid movie-specific spoilers.
For anyone unfamiliar, Five Nights at Freddy’s is more than just a few games where you click through cameras and then a bear screams at you. There’s dozens of books and a few graphic novels which expand the story.
However, if you thought this was just easily digestible media for kids, you’re mistaken. The books and comics speak in metaphor and allegory with important characters represented in name by one-off tragic heroes. They introduce concepts that turn previously accepted theories on their head. They hide lore in easter eggs in the most surprising places (there’s a cipher hidden in a FNAF activity book for God’s sake).
So it’s safe to say that the general audience will be split on expectations. You’ll have the fans on one side, looking for lore, characters, and the affirmation of seeing the story they think they know reflected on the silver screen. On the other side you’ll have casual moviegoers expecting the popular screams and thrills that put the game on the map but who likely didn’t keep up with anything to do with the lore.
Frankly, Five Nights at Freddy’s wasn’t what I expected as a fan of the series, but it may be what I wanted. I’ve watched the MatPat videos, I’ve read the novels, and frankly? The story is convoluted and as I said before: told in metaphor and allegory.
Remnant? Henry Emily? Elizabeth? None of them are mentioned by name (though I do think we see Henry in brief appearance). But, that’s a good thing. Five Nights at Freddy’s works hard to set the groundwork for future sequels and explanations, and while the film itself suffers from it, a hypothetical movie franchise will be better for it.
Ghosts are possessing the robots, William Afton killed the kids, and so on. As I said before, Remnant isn’t mentioned at all but it’s left vague about what makes dying in the suits significant. It’s possible the movie could veer away from the convoluted plot, retcons, and justifications made in the book series and that their existence is purely spiritual and not related to Afton’s wacky experiments.
The point though, is that we’re setting a movie canon. Just like how we know Jason from Friday the 13th is afraid of water, it’s established that ghosts can possess the animatronic suits. The film spends most of its time subtly (and not so subtly) establishing these laws.
The film also suffers from being marketed to kids. Don’t let the PG-13 rating fool you, we all know that the producers want the iPad addicted prepubescents to show up for this movie. The human subplots are simplistic and juvenile “Aunt Jane” is the sort of one dimensional character that makes the parents in Maltida look nuanced.
Real kudos goes to the cast. Josh Hutcherson as Mike, Elizabeth Lail as Vanessa, and Piper Rubio as Abby carry the movie on their backs. Hutcherson has come a long way from The Hunger Games and surprisingly gets to flex his ability to act dramatically as the grief-burdened Mike Schmidt.
Meanwhile, Lail gets similar opportunities to really sell her character and performs well. Lastly Rubio runs with the role she’s given, her character is basically the “autism is my superpower” trope which is endearing for most of the movie.
Matthew Lillard is arguably the biggest star power on the cast, but his appearances are so infrequent you forget he’s even in the movie for about 2/3 of it. When he is on screen, he’s a commanding presence as William Afton, as we’d expect from a sociopathic genius (Afton, not Lillard).
The fact that the animatronics are also real animatronics gives the film a lifelike feel, but I honestly felt some of the creepiness was lost. I hate to say it, but while it’s authentic, 3DCG might have been better.
Ultimately, Five Nights at Freddy’s doesn’t offer anything too new to fans of the series except for a new canon and more easily digestible storyline – but what it does offer its loads of fanservice. References, cameos, easter eggs, it wouldn’t be a true FNAF experience without them. So fans? Enjoy it, this one’s for you.
Those unfamiliar with the franchise will find a “family friendly” (if you’re a cool parent) horror movie with a bit of blood, one bit of gore that happens semi-off screen, and surprisingly few jumpscares. The movie undoubtedly hook some new fans, but discerning horror connoisseurs will probably be apathetic.