You’ve got to know that if Josh Hutcherson (Bridge to Terebitia is the saddest movie I’ve ever seen) is in anything, I will probably watch it and then at least pretend to like it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not only biased because I’ve grown up watching him, but I think he’s quite a fine actor who has the knack for making every role rather amiable. Before we get into the details, I’d like to say I’ve never played the games and know nothing about the lore. So, take this review with a pinch of salt if you’re a fan of the game. Having said that, as someone who went in completely blind, I found Five Nights at Freddy’s a little bit too bleak for what it appears to be. Yes, I do want to try to play the game now that I’ve seen the film, but I don’t think it’s because of the film itself, but more because of the realistic animatronics. Created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the animatronics are definitely the best part of this film (my Josh bias aside). I think Five Nights at Freddy’s might be a moderately horrifying film for kids, but it is something they might enjoy the most.
Five Nights at Freddy’s tells the story of a young man named Mike, who is responsible for himself and his sister. Desperate for work and having been fired from a previous one for not-so-great reasons, Mike takes up the job to be the night security of an abandoned pizzeria, “Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria” (think Chuck E Cheese). His only job is to keep visitors out. Soon, he discovers that the fun-looking pizzeria has a very sinister past that is coming to haunt him. This film is PG-rated and may be an interesting entry point in the world of horror for kids, but there’s something very bleak and dark about it overall. Instead of unfolding into a kooky yet mysterious film about haunted animatronics (which it is sometimes), it also becomes this very sad “Stranger Danger” film that may not be fit for those young viewers. What I’m trying to say is that this film is a little bit confused about who it is for. As a non-follower of the game or IP, it is fairly easy to predict the story within the first act. Even so, Emma Tammi does a fantastic job of bringing these characters to life and creating an atmosphere that is as dead as the script. That’s not a dig at her, but the script alone. With a better script, this film might’ve been terrifying.
When it comes to performances, Josh Hutcherson comes through with the little to nothing he has to work with. There’s an anxiety and urgency to his performance that transcends the screen very well. As I said earlier, even if he were a villain, I’d be rooting for him. Maybe it’s the Neverland-boy-syndrome? On the other hand, young Piper Rubio, as Abby, is wonderful, and her chemistry with Mike is also quite adorable, even if they don’t say much to each other. Sibling bond forging is always fun to watch. It’s Elizabeth Lail’s performance, which is a little bit of a letdown. It’s probably the flat script that makes it seem like she’s coming at us out of nowhere and too dramatically. Matthew Lillard is a big highlight for sure, even if he’s in this almost 2-hour film for far too little time. I’m not going to lie; there’s nothing terrifying about this film, and as I have learned now, the game is known for its jump scares, and the movie has its fair share, which are decent but underwhelming because of the overall script. Still, if you have nothing else to watch with your little cousins, this might keep them quiet for a couple of hours (be ready for the questions, though).
What I liked best are the dream sequences and how they piece together certain things for us, although some are too soon. Mike’s character arc is nothing special and very unimportant. Did I have fun with the film? A little bit, there is no comedy though, even with a killer cupcake (not the kind you’re thinking). There is a mental health message in there too, which comes across as clean and neat, but overall, the whole thing is just too bleak rather than sinister. This year, we got M3GAN and Cocaine Bear, which are on a similar level of ridiculousness as this film but somehow delivered much better thanks to their comic elements. With how successful 2021’s Willy’s Wonderland was, people are definitely going to make comparisons. There’s no badass Nicolas Cage or R-rated kills in this film; as soon as something terrifying is going to happen, there’s a scene switch.
Ultimately, Five Nights at Freddy’s is burdened by a complicated and morbid script, which comes across as unnecessary for the kind of thing we’re setting out for. As one can expect, a video game theme can only be so much, and instead of benefiting from expanding on the primary idea of the game, this film is doing a backflip and landing on its face. I think this film will leave audiences divided because of how confusing it is by itself. Fans of the game may be happy just to hear the catchphrases and callbacks. On the other hand, they might find the concoction of a story too messy. At the same time, non-fans may find it refreshing with the animatronics or fail to be entertained by a PG “horror” film. At the end of the day, I’d say to stream it and don’t waste your time in the cinema. It’s a good enough background watch, maybe with friends or younger siblings. There’s no profanity, gore, blood, or themes of kidnapping. I’d give Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 out of 5 stars (+.5 to see Josh on screen again).