Living in a golden age for horror is one thing. Yet, living in an era with impressive video game movies feels alien. The Last of Us, Werewolves Among Us, and The Super Mario Bros. Movie provide a new foundation. Growing up, the video game movie was a pejorative. Now, we can hope for the best. This made Five Nights at Freddy’s one of the most anticipated films of the year. A survivalist game, with the possibility of blending slasher elements, could have been perfect. Unfortunately, Five Nights at Freddy‘s becomes a monotonous slog with questionable character development.
Mike (Josh Hutcherson) needs a job. After losing his job at the mall, his aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson) attempts to take custody of Mike’s little sister Abby (Piper Rubio). Mike takes an unappealing job at an old arcade and restaurant as a last-ditch effort to keep his sister. However, Freddy Fazbear’s has a dark secret. The spirits of murdered children occupy the former animatronics of the restaurant.
The fan culture around Five Nights at Freddy’s would inevitably create some fan service moments. The inclusion of two popular YouTubers in cameo roles speaks to this trend. However, horror has long featured gratuitous and silly cameos, so this is far from Freddy’s worst offenses. The story moves at the pace of molasses while featuring dozens of flashbacks, is its worst offense. Some of this falls on director Emma Tammi, but her feature The Wind features much stronger pacing. It seems more likely that studio-mandated beats and an overreliance on trauma-focused horror create the problem.
A combination of backstory and storytelling devices does not make Mike an interesting character. Hutcherson plays him well, but the material is far beneath him. Any charisma from the role is from Hutcherson, and the haunted character feels wildly overwritten.
This problem continues for other characters as well. Elizabeth Lail plays one of the worst police officers in recent memory. This again stems from the writing, which prioritizes twists over character storytelling. Matthew Lillard tries his best to make his character more dynamic, but there’s nothing here for him to grip onto. It’s instead a character shockingly devoid of energy, the one thing you’d expect Lillard to always bring to the screen.
Some of this might have been forgiven if the story was scary. It’s not. Instead, we’re given silly montages and recurring nightmares that are not bland at best. Two sequences live up to the promise of a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie—both last less than five minutes. With a runtime nearing two hours, there’s no reason for a lack of scares in this story.
The actual creature design, handled by the Jim Henson Company, stands out amongst the mess. The designs are chilling. The expressiveness of Freddy and Chica are marvelous. Everything you’d want out of the monsters is present and beautifully brought to life. Even with a couple CG shots, the blending is well executed. It does provide hope that with better storytelling and more scares, we’ll see better Freddy’s movies in the future.
Despite hoping Five Nights at Freddy’s would end Blumhouse’s cold streak, they miss the mark again. This movie will have hardcore fans excited to see their favorite characters in live action. It’s going to be a massive financial hit. Despite this, Five Nights at Freddy’s commits the worst crime of all – it’s dull from beginning to end. It’s a frustrating miss on a premise and franchise that can be so much more.