Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023)
Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: October 27th, 2023 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Emma Tammi Actors: Josh Hutcherson, Piper Rubio, Elizabeth Lail, Kat Conner Sterling, Mary Stuart Masterson, Matthew Lillard

 


 

E

ver since witnessing a horrific tragedy as a child, Mike (Josh Hutcherson) has struggled to suppress his short-fused temper and argumentative instincts, causing his general employability to be brief at best. When his Aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) threatens to sue him for custodial rights over his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio), Mike realizes the importance of a stable job and agrees to a nightly security gig at the broken down shambles of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, a once-shining beacon of family fun and food. As Mike continues to battle the demons of his past in his nightmares, real horror surfaces when he awakens to find giant animatronic animal attractions coming to life to enact their own vengeful schemes of death and destruction upon anyone foolish enough to spend a night at Freddy’s.

It begins with “Saw”-like devices of bodily destruction, hinting at potentially gruesome imagery to come, before reverting back to scenes of character development. Curiously, it’s a lot of character development at that; rather than getting on with the anticipated slasher elements, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” spends a considerable amount of time building up details on its unlikely heroes – from rough-around-the-edges childhood traumas to overactive imaginations that manifest into colorful crayon drawings. Even the focus on a book called “Dream Theory” points toward the complex mental statuses of the leads, who suffer from tormented visions and imaginary voices. It’s unusual to devote so many minutes to expanding the reasons behind their behaviors, considering that it all soon devolves into possessed puppets going on a slaughtering spree. At least it serves as a persuasive reason to pressure Mike into working at the haunted pizza place.

Normally, that attention to storytelling is admirable. But here, it largely gets in the way of the slayings – slayings that are particularly amusing in the hands of cartoonish, oversized mascots governed quite divergently by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. With all the moments reserved for filling in backstories and narrating histories to viewers (the friendly-cop Vanessa persona is the worst offender, written so specifically to explain what is going on that one might hope she’s ultimately just an imagined figment; she’s ludicrously unrealistic and unconvincing), the actual attacks and chases are limited. The terrorizing and the body count are staggeringly low, while they’re plagued by “Halloween” levels of logistical nonsense, as bulky, ungainly automatons exhibit superhuman speed and agility.

It also doesn’t help that, despite containing greater intricacies, the premise and look and tone (it attempts to remain serious, even when scenarios grow sillier) are clearly similar to “Willy’s Wonderland” (2021) – an obvious ripoff of Scott Cawthon’s original “Five Nights at Freddy’s” video game series, which began in 2014. Like the terribly uninventive adaptation “John Carter” in 2012 (based on a novel from 1912), however, it may not matter who had the idea first – only who released a movie first. This leans into other evident sources of inspiration; it’s certainly not the first time that Hollywood has pondered what might happen if theme park attractions became deadly (like in “Westworld”), or the havoc that could be encountered if self-governing computer components transformed playthings into killers (like in “Small Soldiers”). “I don’t think they like me very much.”

As for the horror aspects, the animatronic murderers are rarely the scariest material – and they’re routinely relegated to the background as Mike grapples with retrospection (five nights is probably a couple of nights too many, needlessly stretching out the runtime). The bumbling, fuzzy hellions are, actually, intermittently funny. Nightmare sequences prove to be far creepier as the mystery surrounding Mike’s upbringing bleeds into the larger plot of lost children and memories manipulated by a preternatural realm. Yet as with “Silent Hill,” ample faithfulness to the source material alone doesn’t help the property to stand on its own, or to make sense; jump scares and minimally creepy notions (it’s only PG-13, after all) abound, but they can’t singlehandedly compose a movie. And as it borrows from “The Sixth Sense,” “The Terminator,” “Child’s Play,” “Demonic Toys,” “Puppet Master,” and more, the originality appears ever more fleeting. It likely needed to be so much more over-the-top to be memorable. “This place. It gets to people.”

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10