Five Nights At Freddy’s? I have reservations

Growing up in the UK, we didn’t have an equivalent of Chuck E. Cheese, so although I’ve no direct experience of the deep, abiding terror that gigantic animatronic anthropomorphic animals can instil in an entire generation, I can well imagine. And while I’ve never played the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s is based on, I have seen The Banana Splits Movie and that other one with Nicolas Cage in it.

Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), a security guard with a troubled past, is desperate for work and fighting to keep custody of his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio) so takes a night watchman job at the abandoned Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza parlour. But things aren’t what they seem at the abandoned amusement and as events escalate in eerie and unexpected ways, Mike discovers that the Pizza parlour is anything but abandoned.

Even though I haven’t played the game, even the most cursory research is enough to establish that one thing the film version of Five Nights at Freddy’s does well is recreate the atmosphere of the game. The animatronics, brought to life by the Jim Henson Creature Shop, are impressively lifelike and true to their digital counterparts. With each creak and groan, they evoke a palpable sense of dark nostalgia, a souring of childhood affection that underpins their potential to terrify. It’s not particularly subtle in its fan service, either, so even though I know nothing of the source material I’m willing to bet I can spot at least a dozen Easter eggs and nods to the franchise’s extensive lore.

Where the film struggles and I doubt the game does is in its pacing. The middle acts drag a little due to their overemphasis on Mike’s backstory and personal struggles. This leaning into drama forces a corresponding move away from horror and may leave audiences yearning for a more adrenaline-pumping fright and fight for survival against the mechanical critters. Similarly, the decision to widen the film’s potential audience by playing for a safer certificate means there’s little opportunity to embrace the visceral horror that horror and game fans might be expecting

Of course, long-in-development, Five Nights at Freddy’s finds itself in the ignominious position of arriving on the big screen after derivative movies. Both Willy’s Wonderland and The Banana Splits Movie have conspicuously lower budgets but enjoy a greater degree of creative freedom, not being burden by the expectations. But where Willy’s Wonderland revels in its absurd gimmick of rendering the normally garrulous Nicolas Cage virtually mute, Five Nights at Freddy’s opts for a more serious, character-driven approach which nevertheless places the prime attractions at the periphery of the plot. It’s a choice that results in a film that feels more grounded yet less consistently thrilling as it could be.

Five Nights at Freddy’s is exactly the adaptation of a beloved property that you’d expect from Blumhouse. It shines in visual fidelity and fan service, but falls short in narrative execution and genuine horror. Fans of the game will find as much to love as to be frustrated by, while newcomers might just wonder what all the fuss was all about.

Five Nights At Freddy's Review
Score 4/10
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