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October 28, 2023


written by: Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback and Emma Tammi
produced by: Scott Cawthon, Chris Lee Hill and Tyler MacIntyre
directed by: Emma Tammi
rating: PG-13 (for strong violent content, bloody images and language) runtime: 109 min.
U.S. release date: October 27, 2023 (theatrical & Peacock)


Just like not every comic book should be adapted into a movie, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” is proof that not every hit video game needs to level up to the big screen. The successful video game franchise of the same name, created by Scott Cawthon, has been going steady since 2014. The horror-based gameplay leans on 80s nostalgia, providing players with a creepy genre experience that hardly classifies as disturbing. So, there’s potential to ramp up the gore for horror movie fans and turn this into a potentially lucrative movie franchise. Cawthon is on board, contributing to the screenplay, along with co-writers Seth Cuddeback and Emma Tammi (who also directs), but instead of delivering something funny and unsettling, the trio misfires greatly here.

The result is unfortunately quite a dull trip to the Chuck E. Cheese-inspired pizza playland that is plagued with too much plot and not enough scares. It’s commendable to attempt something beyond jump scares and kill counts, but the writers here obviously forgot the video game fanbase and instead tried to inject tangible grief and trauma when all audiences really wanted was silly, gory fun.



The story is set in 2000 when we meet Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), a stressed-out twentysomething working as a security guard in a shopping mall who’s had a problematic history of holding down a job. In fact, in the first ten or so minutes he’s fired from this position after he mistakes an abusive father for a child abductor. We’ll soon learn why that event triggered Mike. In the meantime, Mike needs a job to provide for his younger sister, Abby (Piper Rubio), a preteen who spends most of her time drawing pictures of herself, Mike, and imaginary friends.

Due to his career instability and temperament issues, Mike is in jeopardy of seeing his sister taken into custody by their aunt, Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson), who’s only interested in monthly payments from child services. Reluctantly, he takes a night shift working overnight security at a long-closed kids entertainment center called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, which was lined up for him by career counselor, Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard). It should be an easy gig, since all he has to do is watch the monitors and make sure that absolutely no one enters during his boring shift.



The one hiccup in this new job is a bizarre one. It turns out the anthropomorphic singing animatronic characters on stage are still functional and have been for some time, with their own sinister plans. The one other person helping Mike is Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), a local police officer who has taken an interest in the new person on the night job at Freddy’s, someone who suspiciously knows quite a bit about this defunct location. Between his recent dreams that take him back to a traumatic event from his childhood and the unsettling activity of these animatronic characters, Mike is going to need help in protecting his sister and fending off the nefarious machines that have come to life.

As Mike is introduced it is kind of baffling to comprehend that Abby is his sister, since their age disparity could easily mistake them for father and daughter. Due to his own struggles, one of which is insomnia which he takes sleeping pills for, Mike knows he’s not the most credible guardian for his sister, but Abby still loves him even though she doesn’t communicate it. Hutcherson seems to struggle with his character, probably because there’s not much to him except that he remains in a state of exhaustion and distress and that’s about it. As his aunt, it’s dismaying to see a great actor like Mary Stuart Masterson (“Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Fried Green Tomatoes”) playing such a one-note lame villain character. Viewers unaware of Masterson’s work in the 80s and 90s won’t see the talent wasted here. It becomes clear that although the writers here are really trying for something that diverges from the source material, the characters and storyline become boring and uninteresting in “Five Nights at Freddy’s” rather quickly.



The subplot of “Five Nights at Freddy’s” revolves around Mike’s dream state and his traumatic past. From what he recalls of a core memory, when Mike was about twelve-year-old (Wyatt Parker), his younger brother Garrett (Lucas Grant) was abducted by a mysterious man while his family was enjoying an outdoor picnic. Since then he has been plagued by this event, yearning to uncover who it was that snatched his brother. Mike soon learns that in his sleep he can revisit that fateful day (often doing so while falling asleep at his job) and during one visit he encounters five ghostly children who encourage Mike to follow them.

Around this time, there’s another subplot that’s introduced that one could easily see coming, and not just because it’s in the trailer. Jane hatches an illegal plan to get custody of Abby by recruiting her babysitter, Max (Kat Conner Sterling), along with Max’s brother, Jeff (David Lind), that involves the siblings and a few other friends breaking into Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza and trash the place (for a mere $1,000) during the day with the hope of Mike losing yet another job. Except there’s no reason Mike would be held responsible for a vandalization that occurs during the day when he works the night shift!

This is the part of the movie where video game fans will get what they came for, as we see the former entertainment center’s mascots violently defend their home and place of work against the intruders hired by Aunt Jane. Here is where brown bear Freddy leads his pals against these unwanted guests while Mike is asleep, finding blue rabbit Bonnie, yellow chicken Chica, and red pirate fox Foxy (along with a face-eating cupcake) violently dispensing these unwanted guests. Really, that’s about it as far as animatronic bloodshed.

Bloodshed is why video game fans are potentially interested in a movie version of “Five Nights at Freddy’s”, but they will most likely be quite disappointed by the PG-13 rating here. It’s one thing to watch something like this play out on a screen as a viewer, but it’s another thing entirely to be pulled into the shadowy environment with sing-song oversized murderous characters as a player in survival mode. With an overstuffed plot that becomes unnecessarily convoluted – don’t get me started on how those ghostly children are connected to Freddy and his pals or how Abby has this serendipitous connection to the animatronic characters – and the result is ultimately very uninteresting.

Granted “Five Nights at Freddy’s looks good and the direction from Emma Tammi, along with production designer Marc Fisichella, has some adequate visual flair, but that’s just not enough. You may think that I just wasn’t the target audience for this material. Well, I did watch the movie with my teenage daughter, a fan of the games who was really looking forward to this, and I found her glossing over and looking at me with a similar look of disbelief that I had.



RATING: *1/2



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