“Five Nights at Freddy’s” is more human than horror

“Five Nights at Freddy’s” is more human than horror

Review: Hardcore FNAF fans shouldn’t dismiss the film immediately.

The animatronics of Five Nights at Freddy's appear together in the restaurant they belong to.
Patti Perret/Universal Pictures

Editor’s Note: Spoilers Ahead

Five Nights at Freddy’s reached box offices on Oct. 27, over 9 years after the initial release of the video game with the same name.

To say I’ve been waiting for this movie is a massive understatement. I was 13 when Blumhouse first announced that they were picking up the film adaptation of Five Nights at Freddy’s — and that was equivalent to the second coming of Christ in my non-religious teenage brain. 

Directed by Emma Tammi, the film follows Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), a man trying to maintain custody over his younger sister, Abby (Piper Rubio), to prevent his aunt from stealing custody payments. Mike, fired as a mall security officer for misidentifying a kidnapper, is haunted by recurring nightmares of his younger brother, Garett (Grant Feely), being kidnapped in front of him. Through a series of lucid dreams, Mike’s quest to find Garrett results in communication with the souls of children. These children died in the ’80s at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, Mike’s new place of work, where they were stuffed into animatronic suits in attempts to discard their bodies as evidence.

It’s hard to believe the film has a PG-13 rating with such a dark backstory, but it’s sensible given the need to be accessible to a wide audience. Five Nights at Freddy’s has a lore so complicated that it’s laughable to anyone unfamiliar with the full story. Who cares about a haunted Chuck E. Cheese anyways? 

Through the promise of jump scares, fans new and old are roped in for the same reason people were attracted to the original games: the thrill of fear. That’s precisely why the direction of this film makes perfect sense. By prolonging the promise of exciting, true fear, the film is able to respect the seriousness of the story itself and become adjusted to the reality of the characters’ lives.

Fans looking for a deep dive into the lore, know that this movie is not going to live up to all of your expectations. The game series progressively darkens, telling a devastating story that ends in the deaths of mostly children, which the film lightens tenfold. I was surprised that the specificity of the kids’ deaths was left out — they’re important to the character design, like Chica’s mouth being open because she died screaming.

My main problem was with Vanessa’s character development in particular. For those unversed in the lore, Vanessa is the police officer later revealed to be Afton’s daughter. For a character who experienced haunted killer machines firsthand, it goes beyond the scope of her character to have a happy-go-lucky attitude. Following a superficial fight between her and Mike, Vanessa is simply apologetic, only exacerbating the unnecessary nature of the fight. I’m hoping a future FNAF production reveals her transformation into Vanny, the serial killer patchwork-looking bunny present in the games.

Just as there were questionable choices, there were details I appreciated like Balloon Boy. In the game, Balloon Boy is a creepy shiny plastic toy that says “Hi” every single time he appears. Balloon Boy startling Mike several times landed as a joke because Balloon Boy is consistently creepy and annoying in the games. 

When William Afton broke the fourth wall towards the beginning of the movie, I smiled ferociously. That foreshadowing of the sinister events to come like Max (Kat Conner Sterling) getting snapped in half was exactly what I wanted.

Approaching the film the same way video game developer Scott Cawthon approached the games is not a bad idea, considering it’s a proven formula that works. The film laid enough foundation for potentially better, scarier movies if the franchise is renewed. Though unconfirmed, this is something likely as interviews with the cast have revealed the future of the franchise remains open. Actor Matthew Lillard, portraying Steve Raglan/William Afton, already admitted he signed a three-movie contract.

This horror series that serves as a puzzle for fans to solve is admirable in itself. When Cawthon released the games, he went so far as to include hidden clues in teaser images unveiled only with image manipulation. That sort of interactivity opens up audience engagement in order to uncover deeper meaning, something that’s not present with the release of most media.

The film has a lot to love and grow into, so even the less-than-perfect dialogue is something that can be overlooked. Josh Hutcherson and Elizabeth Lail put their all into their performances, with the rest of the cast making up a non-important comedic background that was decent. 

On a technical level, this film did everything for me that I wanted it to; it brought to life the now nostalgic setting of the first ever Five Nights at Freddy’s game with real life-size animatronic figures. Hyperrealistic to the game design, it captured the abandoned party room perfectly.

Five Nights at Freddy’s ultimately has cult classic potential given the strength of the fanbase. It’s meant to be viewed in the same way one would watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Twilight: a well-thought-out joke.