It feels like a lifetime ago when the initial point-and-click indie game dropped in 2014, amassing a massive following. Jumpscares rattled people when the sound mechanics and atmosphere created an eerie and unnerving background when the player had to stay alive for six hours to keep tabs on the animatronics (Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy), or the animatronic would stridently overtake the screen to knock folks off their feet as the screen jumps to a heavy static, informing they have lost that night. YouTubers such as Markiplier, jacksepticeye, Fernanfloo, and others became synonymous with the gameplay thanks to their hilarious reactions as they forged onto each night, dare I say, an exercise in terrorizing minimalism. The IP generated multiple video game sequels, spinoffs, and some intriguing lore about the animatronics’ existence.
Almost a decade later, after the first game, creator Scott Cawthon and producer Jason Blum got together to throw us a bone and distribute the inevitable video game adaptation to the big screen. Unfortunately, it dismantles its primitive premise with a bizarre direction and a surfeit character melodrama that doesn’t provide enough chills for a series that has remained relatively unsettling. In a distant sense, it’s almost a repeat of how poorly the filmmakers treated Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey‘s exciting idea of taking beloved childhood characters and then dropping the ball down a well by turning them into nugatory serial killers and botching every element of a horror film. Here, it’s as if the production team and director Emma Tammi almost forgot we were in a horror movie and spent time trying to convince us these animatronics are comically friendly. For instance, the M3GAN feature nailed it exceptionally this year by balancing the ghoulish and peculiar attributes of the artificial intelligence-namesake doll. In contrast, Five Nights at Freddy’s keeps a wacky, inconsistent tone and poorly dials back its greatest weapons in the animatronics’ presence.
The plot follows Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), who gets relieved as a security guard and ends up as a nightshift guard at a shutdown family entertainment place from oddball career counselor Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard). Mike has a troublesome past where his brother was kidnapped, and he can’t seem to shake this nightmare, so he delves into his subconscious to find answers. Simultaneously, he’s dealing with potential custody issues as his aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) doubts his ability to care for his sister Abby (Piper Rubio) and tries to take control. So, Mike takes up this low-paying job to remain stable and stumbles upon the animatronics. In due time, he learns these animatronics are not all fun and games and shares time with police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) to uncover her interests regarding the former children’s place.
Yes, the plot sounds somewhat ambiguous as to the ultimate goal here because even if we overlook the drab atmosphere, the direction is sometimes abruptly confounding. The maudlin and unintelligent choices dismantle the sadistic thrill of the game we once played, and it continues this trend throughout its nearly two-hour duration. Are these machines friendly? Dangerous? Protective? Does someone control them? It takes until the last act to get some resolution, but that comes after whimsical moments played for some laughs and tedious exposition.
Don’t get it all wrong: The lumbering presence of the animatronics and their ominous stares remain plentifully creepy, and Raglan, in a cameo of sorts, plays the smarmy counselor very well. The humor works at select moments when the movie learns to play a little loose (akin to Jordan Peele’s films and other Blumhouse motion pictures). And some fun cameos from other YouTubers (no spoilers) might make audiences squeal.
Yet, those moments collapse under a film that seems more ostentatious about incorporating non-CGI discount Barneys than making a coherent product that doesn’t get burdened by a dull storyline. Instead of retaining its simplistic atmosphere of a security guard staying shielded behind doors to avoid getting found by these killer animatronics, we ride on a wave of lethargic energy for most of its runtime (unless you’re a diehard fan and don’t mind its game references or family-styled entertainment). Should an R-rating have been the correct choice here?
YouTube Markiplier, an individual that most would affiliate with this series, mentioned he couldn’t make a cameo in this film due to scheduling conflicts with a feature of his own; wasn’t that our tip-off this film would never come close to the fascination and blood-curdling atmosphere of the game we played at our homestead?
It is probably best to go to your desktop and fire up the original game, as it’ll knock your socks off after a few rounds. Tammi’s film adaptation is another pandering excuse to invoke an IP to make money.